Theater Review: Women Behind Bars

Fans of campy movies of the
1950’s, and more specifically the camp lesbian prison dramas of that era will
find the current production of “Women Behind Bars” a hysterical romp through
the trials and tribulations of one woman’s torrid, steamy, and confused prison
sentence. This play, by Tom Eyen (librettist for "Dreamgirls")
follows Mary-Eleanor (played by the talented Jessica Goldapple) a young woman
who has been sent to serve time for a crime she didn’t commit in the Women’s
House of Detention in Greenwich Village, USA.
 
Presiding over this house of
the damned is The Matron (played by fabulous drag icon Momma aka Worthie Paul
Meacham III) who not only seduces the women incarcerated under her, but also
takes every opportunity to crush what little bit of joy they have in their
lives with cruelty.
 
Director Kurt Koehler has
staged the play in a way that directly involves the audience, and more than one
sequence will have actors almost literally in your lap. Koehler has strokes of
genius in his usage of props for a shower scene, and his usage of multi-media
before the show, during the intermission, and at the end are brilliant! The
costumes and set are perfect for the size of the theatre and aid in setting the
tone of the production perfectly.
 
Momma playing the Matron, a
role played at one time by John Waters’ Divine, gets top billing as a
well-deserved honor for a show stealing performance. Momma obviously enjoys the
part of the Matron and gets the audience to laugh with her character’s sadistic
behavior. Of course, the more outlandish the scene, the more you fall into the
lustful clutches of the Matron, so be ready for intense encounters of breathlessness
and flushed cheeks.
 
Each member of the cast is
equally charming, and they are more than able to take their moments in the
spotlight. Deciding on one favorite among the characters is impossible simply
because they are all so entertaining.  Arianna Ortiz shimmies her way through the
scenes as a sassy Puerto Rican; Kimberly Lewis is both endearing and loathsome
as the Matron’s right hand woman; Tara Karsian is the tough prison chick who
takes no guff from anyone; Mary K. DeVault giggles her way through as the ditzy
blonde hooker; Pip Lilly, in cross-dress, as a steamy street-wise
African-American broad; Dudley Beene, in cross-dress, as a wacked-out Southern
belle straight out of “Streetcar”; and Dawnmarie Ferrara steals a lot of
thunder with absent-minded nonsense speeches that are fun to try to figure out
all on their own. The only ‘man’ of the show, Ted Monte manages to completely
evoke the very unique style of acting from all of the 50’s melodramas with his
multiple male roles.
 
Of course, for this reviewer,
one of the most unexpected treats of the night, was director Kurt Koehler
taking the stage as the Granny of the group, and as the Warden of the prison at
the end of the show. Koehler did an admirable job with a hidden (and some times
not so hidden as part of the joke) script, and made both audience and fellow
actors die laughing. Koehler looked like Nathan Lane in “The Birdcage” and was an absolutely charming
addition to the cast.
 
“Women
Behind Bars” is presented by and at the Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica
Blvd., Hollywood. Dec. 17-Dec. 20. Thu.–Sat., 8
p.m.;
Sun., 3 p.m. For tickets call (323) 957-1884.

 

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