On Stage

Cassandra Engber And Jeremy Gingrich In Die Mommie Die! Cassandra Engber And Jeremy Gingrich In Die Mommie Die!

News And Reviews

By Russell Florence, Jr.


Cassandra Engber And Jeremy Gingrich In Die Mommie Die!

Charles Busch’s over-the-top 1999 comedic melodrama Die Mommie Die! receives an admirable local premiere at the Dayton Playhouse.

Directed by Michael Boyd and set in 1967 Beverly Hills, Mommie concerns the dysfunctional world of faded star singer Angela Arden-Sussman (Cassandra Engber, attractively costumed by Erin Winslow). Angela, still shaken by the death of her twin sister Barbara, is trapped in a loveless marriage to a washed-up film producer. She seeks comfort in the arms of a younger man, but it’s a purely trivial relationship. However, situations take a turn the moment Angela has murder on her mind, which produces a ripple effect that ultimately uncovers a startling truth that changes the Sussman clan forever.

Busch’s naughty, joke-driven creation is a glorified Saturday Night Live skit (a gigantic suppository makes an appearance at one point) intended to have a heightened camp quotient. In fact, Busch drew praise for portraying Angela in the 2003 film adaptation and 2007 New York premiere. Although the drag element is unfortunately absent in the Playhouse presentation, Engber conveys glamour and sophistication nonetheless. There is also a delusional mystique that grows in her performance as the silly plot thickens.

Richard Young is also engaging as Sol, Angela’s cruel and extremely constipated husband who once dreamed of casting Elizabeth Taylor as Billie Holiday. Megan Grabiel and Jonathan Berry hit the mark as Edith and Lance, Angela and Sol’s children. Grabiel, providing one of her best performances, is the epitome of a bratty, vindictive daddy’s girl. Berry, a reliable comedian, brings a kooky James Franco vibe to his energetic portrayal. Jeremey Gingrich is appropriately suave if one-dimensional as Tony Parker, Angela’s lover. Cynthia Karns enjoyably completes the ensemble as dutiful housekeeper Bootsie Carp.

Mommie is another intriguing outside-the-mainstream choice for the Playhouse’s mainstage lineup. The piece has limited appeal, but anyone in the mood for frivolous escapism will have a great time laughing at its absurdity.

Die Mommie Die! continues through October 17 at the Dayton Playhouse, 1301 E. Siebenthaler Ave. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. The play contains adult language and particularly fine scene change music. Tickets are $10-$15. For tickets or more information, call (937) 424-8477 or visit www.DaytonPlayhouse.org


The Victoria Theatre Association’s 2010-2011 Key Bank African-American Arts Festival will consist of the Dayton Opera’s collaborative production of George Gershwin’s Porgy & Bess (October 23-31), the historically black college marching band vehicle DrumLine Live (November 10) based on the 2002 movie Drumline, Marion J. Caffey’s vocal showcase 3 Mo’Divas (January 16), the art exhibit Visual Voices: Dayton Skyscrapers 2011 (February 1-28), the marital dramatic comedy Cheaper to Keep Her (March 1) starring Vivica A. Fox and Grammy nominee Brian McKnight, a lecture by NBA legend Kareem Abdul Jabar (March 14), the Underground Railroad-themed children’s play Freedom Train (April 4) and Disney’s The Lion King (June 14-July 10). For tickets or more information, visit www.VictoriaTheatre.com/KeyBank-African-American-Arts.


Encore Theater Company, a community theater committed to nurturing emerging works and musical theater artists, is developing a new musical entitled The Proof, written by Abigail Nessen Bengson, a marvelous Mimi in Encore’s production of Rent last season, and Shaun McClain Bengson. Billed as an “exhilarating, heartbreaking, experimental folk opera,” The Proof tells the story of a young couple whose budding relationship is shaken by terminal illness. With just one year left to be together, they decide to live 60 years in 12 months, taking full advantage of life’s ordinary moments. The Bengsons have spent the past week in residency with Encore and plan to further develop the show in New York City. A private, invitation-only performance will be held October 13 in the Oregon District Arts Collaborative space.


Cheryl Williams, a 1983 alumna of Sinclair Community College, received Best Actress in a Play honors at the 2010 Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theater, held October 4 in Philadelphia. Williams won for her performance in David Hare’s The Breath of Life at Philadelphia’s The Lantern Theater. While at Sinclair, she was a student of Professor Emeritus Dr. Robert “Mac” MacClennan, served as an artist-in-residence, and directed Measure for Measure. She is currently an adjunct faculty member at Temple University.


Benjamin Magnuson, a 2001 Kettering-Fairmont High School grad and Muse Machine alum, will appear in the ensemble of the 2011 U.S. tour of Les Miserables, which is hitting the road in conjunction with its 25th anniversary. The new, freshly reconceived production, which will incorporate “reimagined scenery inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo” and star Lawrence Clayton, an African-American, as Jean Valjean, will stop at the Ohio Theatre in Columbus March 15-20. Magnuson, an excellent cellist, appeared as Anthony Hope in the Broadway and touring productions of the acclaimed, scaled-down, actor-musician revival of Sweeney Todd.

Reach DCP A&C
editor/theater critic Russell Florence, Jr. at cultureeditor@daytoncitypaper.com

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