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Theatre Review (LA): Bitchslap! by Darrin Hagen at the Macha Theatre

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Bitchslap! is closing this weekend but I managed to see it before it disappeared. Truth is it has been extended several times and is bound to have further life in places like San Diego, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, etc. That is because this campy show about screen icons Bette Davis and Joan Crawford is a hoot and very well done.

The show was written by Darrin Hagen and produced and directed by Odalys Nanin. It features Theresa McLaughlin as the legendary arbitrator of all things Hollywood, Hedda Hopper. C. Steven Foster is the hyperkinetic Davis and Michael Taylor Gray is the cool and arch Crawford.

These aren’t just drag performers, although they may have performed in drag before. Foster is a standup comedian, a writer, and has acted on screen and on stage. Gray is a regular on Pretty – The Series. He has also appeared on several stages around town, most notably as the Leader of the Greek Chorus in The Bacchae at the Celebration Theatre as well as in that theatre’s Sissystrata and adaptation of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol where Scrooge is an internationally renowned designer with the House of S and M (Scrooge and Marley).

Therese McLaughlin is no stranger to the stage either, having appeared in several other shows at the Macha theatre, the show’s home.

The show basically traces the relationship between Davis and Crawford as they rose through the ranks of Hollywood and became rivals only to be cast together in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?. Throw in Hedda Hopper to stir things up and you have quite a brew of hilarity. The highlight of the show is the rehearsal for the famous slap in that movie, which Davis exploits to the max.

The two actors play their characters broadly (especially Foster) but rooted in truth. This simple fact keeps the show from veering off into total camp, so over-the-top it becomes tedious. The performers are to be congratulated for their discipline. Bitchslap! plays at The Macha Theatre through July 15.

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