by Anthony Chase
BUA’s Jimmy Janowski becomes Joan Crawford
This week, BUA once again forges into the territory of Hollywood icons with Jimmy Janowski channeling a great star of the Golden Age. This time, he’s taking on Joan Crawford in Mommie Queerest.
Joan Crawford was iconic for her entire film career. When she moved from the Broadway stage into film during the silent era, she quickly established herself as the quintessential “flapper” of the 1920s. F. Scott Fitzgerald is reported to have called her the embodiment of the Jazz Age flapper, in his words, “the girl you see in smart night clubs, gowned to the apex of sophistication, toying iced glasses with a remote, faintly bitter expression, dancing deliciously, laughing a great deal, with wide, hurt eyes. Young things with a talent for living.”
Crawford had a talent for living and a talent for career advancement. At the advice of good friend and three-time co-star William Haines, who convinced her that the studios didn’t have the best interests of actors in mind, she hired her own publicist. When talking pictures came in, her star continued to rise, as she played a succession of hardworking women who achieved career and romantic success. Just when her star seemed to be waning at the MGM studio, she was picked up by Warner Bros. and made a huge comeback with Mildred Pierce, picking up an Oscar for her effort.
If Crawford remains an icon today, it is not for any element of her long and distinguished film career. In 1940, she adopted a baby girl, the first of five children. She named the child Christina.
To the world, Crawford was a devoted and self-sacrificing mother. When she died in 1977, however, we learned that she had disinherited Christina and her brother Christopher, for reasons, her will stated, “that they well knew.” The following year, Christina published Mommie Dearest, a memoir and expose, in which she revealed her adoptive mother’s abusive parenting and her arguably deranged behavior. In 1981, a film version of the book was released starring Faye Dunaway as Crawford—a remarkable and iconic performance in its own right.
Hollywood was divided over the truthfulness of Mommie Dearest. Some maintained that Christina was embittered and distorted the facts. Others claimed to have witnessed abuse themselves. The image of Joan Crawford, however, was changed forever.
The BUA production of Mommie Queerest has been directed by Todd Warfield, a man with his own Hollywood obsessions, who directed Jimmy Janowski last year in the Tippi Hedren role in the actor’s own reworking of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.
Mommie Queerest depends heavily on the imagery from the 1981 film and on Faye Dunaway’s performance. The film itself has taken on symbolic status, particularly for the generation of gay men who remember its original release. (Dunaway, herself, disowned the film, claiming that it damaged her career).
This production reunites much of the cast of the The Birds Attack. A cast of three joins Janowski: Bebe Bvlgari as Christina, Michael Seitz and Christopher Standart as a litany of characters.
Needless to say, this is a comic homage to an icon rather than a tribute to a great actress. Prepare to laugh.
Mommie Queerest plays through August 26. Call 886-9239 for reservations.
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