Playwright: David Cerda
At: Hell in a Handbag Productions, streaming online. Tickets: HandbagProductions.org/Stage773.com . Runs through: Aug. 15
As the long intermission drags on into its fifth month, home movies and backstage chat are no longer enough for theatergoers craving brand-new written-from-scratch plays to remind them of better days when we really were all in this togethera theme epitomized in The Golden Girls, the long-running television comedy from the 1980s celebrating AARP-eligible women living independently and speaking their minds with uncensored candor.
Given that material, it wasn't long before the Hell in a Handbag company launched its own string of live-action camp-drag parodies spoofing the popular Hollywood series.
Newcomers to the narrative need only know that flirty Blanche, dotty Rose, acerbic Sophia and gruff Dorothy share a house in Miami. In this fourth of the allegedly "lost episodes," Blanche returns from the 1992 SantaCon festival after having been ( perhaps ) exposed to Legionnaires' disease, plunging the household into quarantine. Soon news arrives that the entire city is now at riskjust how many people DID Blanche infect on her weekend spree?
Reactions to the crisis revolve around topics familiar to loyal fans of the source material: Rosesporting a chicken-beak maskfinds comfort in her homemade hand puppets and fond recollections of her bucolic upbringing in northern Minnesota, Blanche denies responsibility for the epidemic as she inventories her extensive supply of sex toys, and Dorothy resists the lecherous advances of her clingy former husband ( who has invented a prophylactic face-covering that responds to exhaled breath by spelling out naughty messages ).
Other visitors include Rose's shy suitor Miles, as well as two girlfriends: smug Misty and overachieving Esther ( who gleefully taunts online audiences with a shout-out to the "secondary characters that nobody who hasn't seen a Chicago show even know about!" ). Oh, and let's not forget seen-it-all Nancy's call-in reports of an orgiastic rave party erupting at the Shady Pines elder-care facility. The gags also encompass commercials extolling such copyright-dodging products as "Colonial Pencil" Life Insurance, along with an abundance of fourth-wall winksnot the least of which is the explanation of how everyone comes to be communicating by videoconferencing technology when it's 1992.
Even more impressive than the verbal slapstick ( ordered to stay in her room, Sophie protests, "Who am I? Anne Frank?" ) is the noteworthy progress made since the advent of "pandemic" theaternot only by performers suddenly reduced to "headshot" acting techniques, but film editors faced with creating the illusion of ensemble dynamics from a welter of stitched-together solo speeches. The cinematography of Peter Neville/Image Control Unit ascertains that the adroit Handbag cast members never waver in their focus, however, but reacts to events and utterances as if clustered in a single space, while the divas being viewed in close-up are careful to gaze past the camera lensexcept for the theatrical production's Rose, whose slightly crossed eyes are part of her charm.