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A CurtainUp Review
Drop Dead Perfect
It isn't likely that you have heard of playwright Erasmus Fenn as Drop Dead Perfect is his first play, and it, like the pseudonym attached to the script, is a howl. If you believe his program bio, he is a magician turned novelist turned playwright. At any rate, he has written a wonderfully daffy and distinctly campy homage (according to the press release) "to TV and movie melodramas of the 1950s."
Virtually every dramatic genre — be it noir, madcap comedy, mystery, tragedy, or musical fantasy—, has also been given its due. This genre-romping presentation by The Peccadillo Theater Company of the Penguin Rep Theater's production also pays notable and dutiful homage to the Ridiculous Theatrical Company and to the memory of its late Artistic Director Charles Ludlam.
That it boasts the presence of Ludlam's former partner, the multi-disciplined theater artist Everett Quinton, makes it a very special event. To watch the resourcefully en travestie Quinton go blissfully over the top (as he should) playing Idris Seabright, a wealthy, lusty eccentric with a flair for revenge and a passion for passion is sure to be a treat for all those who have a yen for summer "camp."
Idris is haunted by an unrequited past love and stunned by the unexpected arrival of Ricardo (Jason Cruz) a mysterious, penniless stranger from Cuba who bears an uncanny resemblance to her long lost love and with whom she has an unsettling attraction. Conflicted as well by her feelings for her crippled (she wears a leg brace) ward Vivien (Jason Edward Cook) who wants to leave the estate in the Florida Keys to study art in Greenwich Village, she is also unnerved by her lawyer Phineas Fenn's (Michael Ceylon) interest in her will as well as in her ward. That's all you the plot you need to know.
Notwithstanding a few allusions to The Glass Menagerie, the play is bookended with narration by The Man, the lawyer's son who stands in a soft glow, "Yes, I have tricks in my pocket. I have things up my sleeve."
So what if the complex plot with and its lurid detours and its ever-widening holes of credibility takes a breath every so often for a double take or a double entendre. Fenn's four main characters (excluding the narrator) are complicated souls. Each one destined for a fate that were it not for the sublime and funny inclusion of some loco singing and lewd dancing, would be the essence of gothic horror (great, another genre). Under the expertly abetting direction of Joe Brancato, the pot boils with a surplus of surprises.
It would be remiss to suggest that Quinton is simply giving one of his quintessential performances. He has made Idris a very real and terrifying character whose posturing may be at times risible but it is also impressively removed from anything akin to a drag-dominated pretention.
Often identified for both his direction and his portrayal of the title character (originated by Ludlam) in The Mystery of Irma Vep, he is able to underline a nuanced move, overplay an emotion as well as nail a look with uncanny accuracy. Costume designer Charlotte Palmer-Lane has done everything this side of making 1950s haute couture fashionable again to make every entrance by Quinton a show-stopper, best of all down a staircase. . . those stairs, by the way, also serve in getting the play's biggest laugh and applause for Idris's ward Vivian, as played by the terrific Jason Edward Cook.
Cook has more than one scene-stealing moment. There's one in particular in which she flings her leg brace away to dance with Ricardo (a disarmingly smarmy Jason Cruz) the sexy hunk whose past proves as much a twisted mystery as is his sexuality.
Choreographer Lorna Ventura has devised some nifty dancing for Ricardo and Idris as well as for the closeted Phineas who is close enough to being straight to make his being seduced by Ricardo a rather wholesome diversion. The displays of foliage within the nicely appointed interior of the cottage (evocatively designed by James J.Fenton) where all the mayhem occurs is indicative of Idris's interest in horticulture as in Ricardo who talks just like Ricky Ricardo. I should mention that Idris's sister's name is Lucy. Can Fred and Ethel be far away?
You don't have to be a fan of Alfred Hitchcock's Grade B TV mysteries, TV Sitcoms, or the spoofs of old movies as performed on the Carol Burnett Show, but a little frame of reference wouldn't hurt. The playwright includes this little note on the first page of the script. "Playful abandon is what is important within the framework of a B Grade TV melodrama." It is that respect for playful abandonment that makes Drop Dead Perfect a refreshing summertime tonic.
Drop Dead Perfect had its world premiere at the Penguin Rep in Stony Point, Rockland County in August 2013.