Die Mommie Die!
nytheatre.com review by Stan Richardson
October 18, 2007
I have very little to say about Die Mommie Die! I was not terribly stimulated, nor did I leave the experience sleepy and numb. It has more substance than a trifle, but I can't quite understand what it's saying to an audience right now. Am I so out-of-sync with commercial theatre that I'm not satisfied unless there's a compelling reason for a play to be produced (or, in this case, revived)?
Certainly the spectacular Charles Busch, author and eponymous star of Die Mommie Die!, can hold his own amongst the gimmicks of the Blue Men, the Stomp-ers (and other shows revolving around the percussion of found objects), those coy Naked Men Singing. Busch is a fine writer and truly a fierce presence—a dragon in drag. I can't fault him, nor director Carl Andress, nor their top-notch cast (including Kristine Nielsen and Van Hansis, each giving exuberant and witty performances), nor an extraordinary design team (special mention should go to Ben Stanton's lighting and Michael Anania's set). So why do I feel so… blah?
Set in 1967 Beverly Hills, Die Mommie Die! concerns the fading Venus Fly Trap, Angela Arden: her failing singing career, her failing marriage, failing affair, failing relationship with her daughter (her bond with her son, however, is disturbingly tight), failing attempts to communicate with the maid, Bootsie. I don't want to reveal any of the plot turns here, except to say that murder becomes a viable—nay, desirable—option for most everyone involved.
The story is certainly entertaining, especially for those who enjoy film noir. But neither the play nor the production transcend the Campiness that, inandofitself, is no longer unusual. Certainly, Camp is one of the primary weapons in the arsenal of contemporary advertising—nearly every commercial is "over-the-top," "exaggerated," "theatrical." Indeed, who (in New York City, at least, but arguably throughout the nation) would blink an eye upon seeing a drag queen endorsing mascara, iMacs, anti-jock-itch cream?
There is nothing mischievous, dangerous, or eye-opening about the experience of Die Mommie Die! Not stunt-based nor overly-reliant on salacious celebrity "news," the talent involved here is the Real Deal. But is talent enough? I don't know that Camp is dead, but it certainly does seem to be living best on television—where most subversive styles go to be domesticated and peacefully give up the ghost. If that is a goodnight into which Charles Busch does not wish to go gently, then he must convince us that his play is relevant; the jokes are not enough.