by Dalt Wonk
It’s supposed to be an antebellum mansion in Ascension Parish, but the interior design is strictly nouveau kitsch, and it’s an appropriate setting for Ricky Graham and Varla Jean Merman to wreak comic mayhem on the 1964 thriller Hush … Hush, Sweet Charlotte.
Shut Up, Sweet Charlotte!, currently on the boards at Mid-City Theater, originally was presented in 2007 at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre. Varla (aka Jeffery Roberson) wrote the comedy with Matthew Martin. It is outrageous, but there is considerable wit sprinkled amid the shtick.
The story is a wildly complicated mystery, complete with ghosts, hallucinations, severed arms and wicked cabals set in a Tennessee Williams esque landscape. Charlotte (Graham) battles Baton Rouge officialdom, which has slated her home for demolition in order to build a bridge. Charlotte’s impoverished cousin Miriam (Varla) arrives to help. Miriam grew up in the home with Charlotte and her father, and she — like everyone else in the small town — knows that Charlotte’s married lover was murdered and dismembered during a party at the home many years ago.
Some of the best moments in the show are offhand asides and visual gags. Miriam reminisces about sliding down the banister as a child. She demonstrates, but she realizes (as the audience does) that the knob on top of the newel post has gone missing during her slide. She tugs insistently under her dress and eventually produces the missing knob.
Charlotte’s lover was the husband of a neighbor, Jewel (Yvette Hargis). An insurance inspector (Michael Sullivan) arrives from London to investigate why the murdered man’s life insurance was never claimed. Velma (Brian Peterson), Charlotte’s housekeeper, tries to protect her employer from a conspiracy between Miriam and her former lover Dr. Drew (Jack Long), who also is Charlotte’s personal physician.
This is not Sherlock Holmes, rather it’s Sherlock Holmes presented by the inmates of an asylum. This also is not a show for Cub Scouts or Brownies, but for the rest of you, it will get 2013 off to a cheery start.
Shut Up, Sweet Charlotte!
8 p.m. Fri.-Sat., Jan 4-5; 8 p.m. Thu. & Sat., Jan. 10 & 12; 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat. Jan. 18-19
Mid-City Theatre, 3540 Toulouse St., (504) 488-1460