Bianca Del Rio is everybody's favorite bitch. Hispanic (or possibly her spanic), she is a svelte, surly marvel. She is a sort of dominatrix of drollery. Metaphorically, we kneel before her and beg for more rough treatment. How she charms us with this blend of raunchiness and petulance is an enigma. It's a bit like the karate master who breaks a brick with the edge of his hand. The slightest qualm and all is lost. Bianca -- who shares an apartment and a bed (not to mention a complete set of vital organs) with a costume designer named Roy Haylock -- has always had a winning way with ad lib wisecracks. In fact, sometimes it's hard to tell where the script leaves off and the improvisation begins; for instance, in Grenadine McGunkle's Double-Wide Christmas, Bianca played an irritable, chain-smoking lowlife, who regularly "squeezed out" babies in order to increase her welfare checks.
Recently, Bianca has had a hit with her own one-woman show, Bianca's Remote (Out of) Control, at Le Chat Noir. On the night I attended, the place was packed and the audience was clearly having a ball. The highlight of the show is a series of satiric impersonations. As Cher, for instance, whose giant gold hoop earrings are actually "towel rings from the Sheraton Hotel," she continually discards bits of her costume, because "It's very hard to keep your attention unless I'm changing clothes."
The best of these counterfeit celebrities appear in a fantasy sequence where various movie stars audition for the part of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. The voice of a casting director (Kevin Charpentier) reads excerpts from each candidate's resume.
"Hobbies: talking on the phone ... and not talking on the phone." Marilyn Monroe sashays onstage, breathless and squirming, in the famous dress she wore over the subway vents to sing "Happy Birthday." "Hobbies: supports various children's charities." It's Joan Crawford, who quickly loses control of her smoldering temper and threatens to chastise one and all with a ruby coat hanger. Next, we meet Carmen Miranda, who sets a world's record in lip speed, spewing out a monologue faster than an angry Cuban after an overdose of amphetamines. And best of all, Liza Minelli, all ticks and spasms, as though undergoing some sort of long-distance, wireless electroshock treatment, as she endlessly reminds the world that her mama was the great Judy Garland. There's an old adage in legit theater that you can have a hit with a poor first act, if it's got a strong second act (but not the other way around). Bianca's Remote (Out of) Control is a case in point. The first act is slow going. And there are some obvious reasons. For one thing, Bianca has chosen to appear not as her splendidly vituperative adult self, but as she was at 9 years of age. A cute idea, perhaps, but it cramps her style big-time. The premise is that young Bianca is being punished by her offstage, Spanish-accented mother (Charlotte Lang): "Deen I say no watchin' TV?" We get many Latino language jokes, some of which strain for effect, like the mother's using "United Cities" for "United States." In any case, Bianca manages to find the hidden remote control. She summons up her TV star idols -- sort of watching them and becoming them, at the same time. The stage is dominated by a giant, painted TV, that one expects will somehow come to life, but it serves instead as a screen, behind which Bianca disappears before reentering, briefly, as Carol Burnett, Wonder Woman, etc.
What saves the first act from disaster are disasters. Live theater's incorrigible habit of going wrong occasionally frees Bianca from the straightjacket of a weak script. And in those moments, the force of her personality shines through and wins us over. On the night I saw the show, for instance, something was messed up with Wonder Woman's golden lasso. And the few moments, while the flummoxed Bianca muttered peevishly about "special effects" and asked the audience to "work with me on this," we remembered why we were there and why our expectations were so high. Of course, I know the incident may be a regular part of the show -- but the mood is right. It feels alive. And "feels" is good enough.
Kevin Charpentier, Charlotte Lang and Roy Haylock wrote the script, while Haylock designed the excellent costumes.
This is a show with many enjoyable moments. But we in the Bianca Del Rio fan club know our outrageous idol can do so much more. We impatiently await the next edition.