A hilarious parody within a parody taking aim at a beloved sitcom.
By Joel Benjamin
Jamie Morris’s Re-Designing Women is a parody within a parody within a parody. If that makes this hilarious comedy sound too intellectual, I’m not telling it right. There is mucho knock-down-drag-out silliness on stage at the Baruch Performing Arts Center—emphasis on the “drag-out.”
Re-Designing is first of all a take-off of Designing Women which ran from 1986 until 1993. It is also a drag show. All the (kind of) iconic female characters are portrayed by men who capture and divinely exaggerate the mannerisms of these colorfully idiosyncratic women. It also morphs into a sharp satire of reality shows, which are an unfortunate programming blight on TV now.
Mr. Morris’s play quotes liberally from the scripts of Designing Women. For those familiar with the ultra-liberal, feminist storylines there are many moments of recognition. For those who never saw the show, the lines simply register as funny. The plot catches the Sugarbaker Design firm and its staff employees in a state of crisis.
Charlene (Michael B. Moore, who also designed the extravagant costumes and wigs) the unsophisticated hick and receptionist is in a panic because she believes she is shrinking. Anthony (Darius-Anthony Robinson who also does a mean Nene Leakes late in the show) the Black ex-con is being chased around the house by the slightly nutso, lascivious Bernice (Mikey Abrams, who plays her way too young). Bernice keeps shouting “Black man, Black man!” and making off-color references to Anthony’s genitalia. Maryjo (a slightly outsized Chad Peterson) is in a tizzy over everything from traffic to rudeness to poor grammar. Julia (Mr. Morris, himself, stomping about and gleefully spouting his lines) is worried about business.
Then there is Suzanne (Ashton Shawver, strangely loveable and vulnerable) whose weight is spinning out of control. She has tricked her colleagues into signing up for a reality show to keep Sugarbakers solvent. After some nasty, but very funny, bickering, they reluctantly agree to do the reality series which is to be hosted by Andy Cohen (Kevin Moore who is almost too on target as this sleazily unctuous and ubiquitous TV presence).
In Act Two, the theater audience becomes the reality TV studio audience for a “reunion show” in which all the characters hash out their differences and let it all hang out. A feud between Maryjo and Charlene which, we find out, was instigated by one of their Sugarbakers colleagues, gets out of control. We get to hear Charlene and Julia do a few of their most famous speeches and all ends relatively happily.
The entire cast is game and absurdly on target. Christopher Kenney’s direction barely keeps the Mr. Morris’s witty, if off-color, play rolling along briskly.
The budget for off-Broadway shows aren’t large enough to duplicate the sumptuously decorated original TV set, but with the help of a strategically placed video screen, the set, fuzzily credited to the “Baruch Performing Arts Center,” works well enough.
Re-Designing Women (June 8-21, 2015)
Baruch Performing Arts Center
55 Lexington Ave. (entrance on 25th St. between Lexington & Third Avenues)
New York, NY
Tickets: 212-352-3101 or www.baruch.cuny.edu/bpac
Running time: 2 hours including one intermission