NY Theater Review by JK Clarke
Television and film of the 1950s are pretty broad targets for parody. A good deal of the country’s post-war optimism and naïveté made its way into the medium and the result was a silly portrayal of innocence that, in retrospect, seems almost unreal. Nonetheless, because of the imagery these shows and films portrayed, it’s the period that many sociopolitical groups look to as America’s “golden age” despite the fact that they were in no way a reflection of what was actually going on in the country at the time. Add to that the newness of television (and mass market film) and the natural attempts to transpose elements of live theater onto the screen (we know now that it doesn’t work), and you have a perfect subject to lampoon. But, parody, too, is a fine art. Misfires are cringe-worthy and successes are hard to come by. What a joy, then, is Peccadillo Theater Company’s production of Penguin Rep’s Drop Dead Perfect (by Erasmus Fenn), now playing at Theatre at St. Clement’s in Hell’s Kitchen.
The scene is a sunny cottage in the Florida Keys, 1952, the home of Idris Seabright (Everett Quinton) and her permanent house guest Vivien (Jason Edward Cook), a budding sculptor who aspires to move to Greenwich Village to pursue her craft. But in comes Ricardo (Jason Cruz), a hot young Cuban number who has designs on Idris’s purse, but an uncanny resemblance to a long lost flame. His presence is a sensual awakening for Vivien, and a re-awakening for Idris; so he plays one off the other and chaos, betrayal and broken hearts follow suit.
Storyline is secondary to acting in this production and Quinton and Cook ham it up to great effect. Yes, part of the joke is the roles being played by men in drag, but Quinton is precise and hilarious as a Joan Crawford/Bette Davis mashup (plus throw in a few more high drama/noir stars of the era). He’s elegantly, period-perfect styled (Charlotte Palmer-Lane) and coiffed (Gary Martori), with precise comic timing. Cook, too, is so beautifully dressed and made up that he’s passable to the uninitiated. Better still, his character has echoes of Lucille Ball of the “I Love Lucy” era. Ball was a comedic genius, and Cook holds his own admirably—no easy feat—with remarkable pratfalls, comic timing and Ball’s patented physical exclamations of shock; not to mention amazing dancing.
The secret to great camp and parody is subtlety. Overdone mugging and too-easy jokes can make a performance go right down the cringe chute, and there’s little of that here. This is a fun, self-effacing, easy-going comedy with some big laughs and a solid enough storyline to guide the audience through the gags. Drop Dead Perfect is indeed perfect: as a way to spend a fun, light-hearted night out at the theater.
Drop Dead Perfect. Directed by Joe Brancato. Wednesdays through Sundays until August 10 at the Theatre at St. Clement’s (423 West 46th Street, between Ninth and Tenth Avenues). www.dropdeadperfect.com