VALLEY OF THE DOLLS
8 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 6 p.m. Sun.; June 12-July 5
Le Chat Noir, 715 St. Charles Ave., 581-5812; www.cabaretlechatnoir.com
Tickets $26 (Fri.-Sat.), $21 (Sun.)
- Knockdown, dragout: Neely O'Hara (Lisa Picone) attacks Helen Lawson (Bob Edes Jr.) in Valley of the Dolls.
Such antics are catnip for Running With Scissors, New Orleans' premier theater corps de camp, which has put on dozens of pop-culture debacles, including a production of The Bad Seed in which the child-murderess Rhoda was played by a thirtyish man in braids, and an indescribable melding of the horror classic Carrie with the 1980s TV show The Facts of Life. VD had an off-Broadway production in 1996, but Running With Scissors' version is an original adaptation by director Richard Read, with plenty of hambone input from a cast of seven playing some 20 roles.
"I've been doing this part since I was 13 years old," confessed Bob Edes Jr. at a rehearsal last week. Edes, one of the city's busiest actors, is playing tough-as-Press-On-nails Broadway legend Helen Lawson. (As in the New York production, some of these dolls are drags.) Edes gets the movie's showstopper line: "They drummed you out of Hollywood, so you come crawlin' back to Broadway. But Broadway doesn't go for booze and dope. Now get out of my way. I've got a man waiting for me."
Big Easy Award winner Brian Peterson straps on a dress as "career girl" Anne (played onscreen by Barbara Parkins), who goes from private secretary to America's Next Top Model in record time, and Dorian Rush essays the role of dim-bulb Jennifer North (Sharon Tate in the movie), whose flat voice and distinctly unflat figure catapult her from a Hollywood career into a string of European "art films." (At the rehearsal, Rush had Tate's voice down cold.) And Lisa Picone reports for scenery-chewing duty in the plum role of Neely O'Hara, who goes from chorus girl to Oscar winner to Broadway star to, finally, crawling around an alley in a mink coat, hopelessly addicted to dolls. The rest of the cast is rounded out by Brad Caldwell, Jack Long and Dwayne Sepcich, who play everything from a handicapped lounge singer to a ladies' room matron in quick-change style.
In rehearsal, the cast continually cracks up at one another's lines and improvisations, but their timing is impeccable and professional; there's no room for sloppiness in a show that depends on split-second costume and lighting changes — not to mention two live musical numbers. But of all the laugh-inducing period details from the '60s (the clothes and hair primary among them), there's also a weird, antique poignancy to Susann's overheated but moralistic world, a place where someone could get "drummed out of Hollywood" for taking too many pills or flashing her bare bottom onscreen in "nudies."
But any poignancy in VD is completely incidental and coincidental; this show is trashy fun and proud of it. Onstage, Picone is throwing one of her character's many temper tantrums in style: "I don't have to live by stinkin' rules set down for ordinary people! I licked booze, pills and the funny farm. I don't need anybody or anything!" And the whole cast laughs with her.