'Norma Doesmen' at Society Hill: Not the greatest star of them all
You wouldn't think it would be all that tough to successfully perform a campy parody of Sunset Boulevard - and the title Norma Doesmen, starring a beefy drag queen (Garrett Longo), seems like a pretty good start. But Gloria Swanson, as the film's fictional screen legend Norma Desmond, never let anyone steal her spotlight; at Society Hill Playhouse, everyone steals Longo's.
You wouldn't think it would be all that tough to successfully perform a campy parody of
- and the title
, starring a beefy drag queen (Garrett Longo), seems like a pretty good start. But Gloria Swanson, as the film's fictional screen legend Norma Desmond, never let anyone steal her spotlight; at Society Hill Playhouse, everyone steals Longo's.
The actor, a broad-shouldered, hook-nosed, impressive physical presence, tends to mumble - mumble! - Norma's lines, and though he claims he "lives, loves, and is" the role (which was commissioned for him), he's miles away from Swanson's eye-rolling grande dame - maybe closer to Santa Monica Boulevard.
Writer/director Stephen Stahl's script is part of the trouble. From the start, the actors dodge a hail of rapid-fire phallic double entendre - which is as it should be. When hack screenwriter Joe Dillis (Benjamin McClung) finds his way to Norma's crumbling estate, it's because "I was having some trouble with my rod and I rammed it into your garage." You can probably see from the comfort of your kitchen table where the rest of that scene is going. But Stahl is unable to maintain his verbal, um, potency, and by the second act we get this lazy mid-catfight exchange between Norma and Joe's girlfriend, Betty Shaveher (Jamie McKittrick).
Norma: Go put on a pair of big-girl panties and deal with it.
And the less said the better about the show's sporadic and sophomoric musical numbers (a not-all-that funny Norma/Joe duet is titled "Smackin' the Sack"), and Norma's sweaty, panting assistant Max (Matt Collins).
What the production does have going for it are McKittrick and McClung, both very good sports. McClung's face - cleft chin, strong nose - approximates the leading noir-ishmen of Hollywood's golden era. And he gets extra points for not breaking character and laughing when, for instance, he pulls a pair of dress socks out of his underwear and casually puts them on his feet. But McKittrick really steals the show, singing with a Betty Boop voice and loopy grin, and tapping out a tune in her crinoline and pink glitter platform Mary Janes.
Of course, out of affection for the film and for Norma Doesmen's obvious Rocky Horror aspirations, I'd love to say Longo is the big star, but unfortunately, both the production and his performance, as Ms. Desmond might say, "got smaller" than their source.
Through Nov. 7 at the Red Room at Society Hill Playhouse, 507 S. Eighth St. Tickets: $35, includes one drink. Information: 215-923-0210 or www.societyhillplayhouse.org.