Joan Crawford Goes to Hell! | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Joan Crawford Goes to Hell! 

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JOAN CRAWFORD GOES TO HELL!, Sweetback Productions, at the SweetCorn Playhouse. It's hard to parody excess. But David Cerda in his 90-minute takeoff on La Crawford adds hell to histrionics, sending Joan to perdition where Lucifer--Mr. DeVille--forces her to review her life as if it were a B movie. Even there the self-crowned Queen of Hollywood has no regrets or remorse. The "script" comes from Christina Crawford's revenge memoir Mommie Dearest (book and film) and from Joan's self-serving My Way of Life.

Cerda--who also perpetrated Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer and Scarrie--the Musical (still running after ten months)--loves to erase the line between life and artifice. Here the Crawford legend is so grand it takes three actors to play her (and three to play the all-suffering Christina). Jeremy Trager is the catty posthumous Joan, demurely phony as she reduces Hades to one last audition. Tracy Repep is fiendishly accurate as the madly mugging movie star (i.e., Faye Dunaway), and Cerda himself is nightmarishly nasty as the enraged Joan, erupting in the infamous coat hanger scene and offering surreal beauty tips from My Way. All the Joans are stunningly garbed in period gowns industriously assembled by Rose Mysker.

Though a tad slow, Steve Hickson's staging offers a wicked homage. The one flaw in this laugh-a-minute romp is how slavishly it mirrors the movie. When it does take liberties--a swimming contest between Joan and Christina is changed into a wrestling match, for example--it's funnier than the original. That's a hint worth taking. --Lawrence Bommer

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