NY Theater Review JK Clarke
The 1970s-80s rock band The Blue Oyster Cult once prophesied in song, “Joan Crawford has risen from the grave!” and now it has happened . . . though probably not in the way they meant. In the revival of Lypsinka’s marvellous 2005 production The Passion of the Crawford—now playing in repertory at The Connelly Theater along with Lypsinka’s The Boxed Set and John Epperson’s solo performance, Show Trash (both previously reviewed on this site)—Ms. Crawford really does come alive through the magic of soundtrack and Lypsinka’s amazing acting (via her creator and alter-ego John Epperson) and costuming (Ramona Ponce).
Directed by Kevin Malony, the core performance of The Passion of the Crawford is a reenactment of an April 1973 live interview at Town Hall in New York (her last major public appearance). The interviewer is John Springer (wonderfully played as Crawford’s foil by Scott Wittman in the production we saw, but by Steve Cuiffo for most shows), a Hollywood publicist and press agent often referred to as the Guardian Agent to the Stars. On a perfectly mod set (Jim Boutin) complete with white shag carpet and plastic bucket seats, he conducts an interview not unlike James Lipton on Inside the Actor’s Studio. Crawford, proud of being honored, is at her sauciest and most “glamorous.” In discussing the recent Academy Awards, the grande dame condemns the behavior of the other actors: “I think everyone tried to have the “cutes”. . . And this year I was appalled at the behavior of everyone including Mr. Brando,” no doubt referring to The Godfather star rejecting his Oscar and instead sending Sacheen Littlefeather to accept it in his place as a protest of Hollywood’s portrayals of Native Americans. Lypsinka’s miming of Crawford in this interview is spot on, but with the added joy of subtle hints of rage or flirtation with a mere glance or toss of the hand. The result is riotous. Nevermind that Crawford’s exaggerated self-importance is laughable on its face, Lypsinka’s perfect embodiment, along with sly hints of commentary on the text, belie the absurdity of an excessively self-important star. But the audience plays right into it, with a sycophantic Q&A session that borders on idol worship: When a fan asks, “Have you ever considered playing Scarlett in Gone With the Wind?” Joan snaps, “I wasn’t asked!” Oh, the audacity! The interview is intercut with flashback scenes of Joan and her family talking to a reporter about holidays in the Crawford home, which elicits gasps from the audience, far too versed in the cruelties revealed in her daughter’s 1978 memoir, Mommie Dearest, which suggested that those cozy Christmas tree moments were far less than idyllic and gave way to domestic horrors once the cameras were gone.
In addition to the interview segment, Lypsinka also performs her signature telephone response bit (solely from Crawford movie clips this time) and later does what can only be described as a Crawford sound bite disco mash-up (with squawking about a “crippled lady” over and over). Both uproarious, perfectly timed pieces nicely round off the evening with slightly more jocularity than the relatively straight (but very funny) interview.
The wonderful thing about the Lypsinka Trilogy is that it’s really impossible to say which of the three are “must see.” They all are. Joan Crawford fans will be particularly enamoured of this show; but, in fact, one need not be especially familiar with Crawford to enjoy it to the fullest. The best advice, really, is to see all three.
The Passion of the Crawford. Selected dates through January 3, 2015 at The Connelly Theater (220 East 4th Street, between Avenues A & B). www.lypsinka.com