I’m going to get straight to the point: if you haven’t seen the comic Mayhew…I mean mayhem that goes on every night in Shut Up, Sweet Charlotte! at Muriel's Cabaret Theatre @ Le Petit, grab anyone and everyone you know with even the tiniest funny bone in their body, and be prepared to have a bloody good time. This parody of the 1964 Grande Dame Guignol thriller Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte may have made a tidy sweep at this year’s Big Easy Awards, but it’s no accident that this show continues to crack audiences up. In a triumphant (but sadly) limited return to Le Petit, director Jeffery Roberson has recreated the madacap world of Hollisport, Louisiana and turned it upside down.
Never mind that Roberson not only has to stage the show and keep it’s tight pacing and antics in check, but he also has to step into the world of Varla Jean Merman, the lovechild of Ethel Merman and Ernest Borgnine (see Chapter XXVIII of Merman’s autobiography for the details,) but he is Roberson as Varla Jean as Olivia de Havilland as Miriam Deering! It makes for a surprisingly nuanced and layered character study. Deering is conniving, coquettish, and possesses a wicked tongue, and a dangerous body. Varla Jean never fails to capture the right moment to get laughs – from Miriam’s tattered dress to the hysterical gust of wind that sweeps the plantation home, from sleeping pretty to killing dirty (oops, did I say too much?), her gender-bending performance is sensational.
Ricky Graham plays Bette Davis as Charlotte Hollis, Miriam’s aging and demented cousin who may have been responsible for the gruesome murder of a married man, John Mayhew (played by Jefferson Turner.) But now she lives in her family’s decrepit Antebellum home, awaiting the demolition crew who want to build a highway and bridge where the house currently stands (the demolition foreman is also played by Mr. Turner.) “They have to build a bridge to meet the road,” the foreman explains to Charlotte. Charlotte quips, “Well, that’s a novel idea for Louisiana Civil Engineering!”
Graham is in one of his funniest roles ever, with a spot-on Bette Davis impersonation mixed with Graham’s own blend of humor and timing.
Rounding out this incredible cast is the multi-talented Yvette Hargis as the good-ol’-boy drag king sheriff Luke Standish, accompanied by a minor-chord version of the Andy Griffith Show theme song whenever he appears. Hargis also plays the diseased widow Jewel Mayhew, whom Charlotte says “She deserves to be ill. She deserves to die!”
Brian Peterson makes a hysterical turn as Velma Cruther, Charlotte’s faithful maid, as portrayed in the film by the deadpan Agnes Moorehead. Martin Covert plays the stuffy Harry Wills, an insurance investigator from Lloyd’s of London, who poses as a reporter fascinated with Charlotte’s tragic story, as she is his “favorite living mystery.” And lastly, Drew Bayliss (the droll Jack Long), is Charlotte’s doctor, in cahoots with Varla Jean’s Miriam. Long plays the slithering, slightly evil Southern doctor, someone you definitely wouldn’t want to be stuck with in a locked room with a sharp implement.
You’ll find a purposeful mix of production values in this show. The opening scene with the scaled down Hollis plantation and miniature Tonka backhoe assures us that we’re in for a campy good time. Cecile Casey Covert’s beautiful costumes pair well with the B-Movie sets of Roberson, Allen Cutler and Brad Caldwell. Brian Peterson designed the fabulous wigs, and Brian Johnston wrangles the cast and crew and keeps the comedy fast and loose every night as the Stage Manager. Ellen Moore provides the eerie lighting to set the mood.
This production is not to be missed. Bravo to Le Petit and the cast and crew for bringing Charlotte back to New Orleans audiences!
Shut Up, Sweet Charlotte!, at Le Petit Theatre
Produced by Magna Puella and Le Petit Theatre
Directed by Jeffery T. Roberson
With Ricky Graham, Varla Jean Merman, Jack Long, Brian Peterson, Jefferson Turner, Yvette Hargis and Martin Covert
Now through May 27
Le Petit Box Office 504.522.2081