Go to Homepage   Die Mommy Die: Broadway and Boobies

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Sundance Channel Home Entertainment, ASIN B0001Z3HE

When did Clytemnestra turn into a drag queen? As soon as you see this movie, you may wonder right along with me. The answer seems to be, when Agamemnon dragged his family to America in the 1950s. For all his Hollywood-style hucksterism, his wife became queen of the villains the minute she began to resemble Mommie Dearest (1981). Get ready to applaud! This movie offers the most challenging male role since The Bird Cage (1996).

dvd: die mommy die Only Faye Dunaway -- perhaps -- could outdo Charles Busch as the heavy-handed matron of the Sussman clan. This diva divides her time between planning a return to her career and teaching her children to despise their father (Philip Baker Hall). A paid Lothario (Jason Priestley) encourages her to believe she can escape the sinkholes of time. Her face seeks the camera only to remind us that her chin reveals unparalleled masculine ambition.

Could a woman drive ever upward and onward in that era without turning into a man? To compete for stardom, frilly aprons hardly attracted an entourage (unless your name began with Judy). What determination it took to place a name in lights -- and offer an act both men and women clamored to see. This one, though, sends shivers down the spine at this suggestion: No one possessed more gall than the harrowing murderess of Aeschylus' tragedy. Only Medea can challenge her for raw audacity.

So, why shouldn't a male actor test his talents against a measure that intimidates all but the best? The more Busch excels, though, the more he seems to revise the play that begat his character. In this version, his daughter (Natasha Lyonne) survived Daddie Dearest too. In fact, as she cuddles in bed beside him, she proves this screenwriter knows his Freud and complicates every motive. Sister wants to replace both Mommy and Brother (Stark Sands). Brother wants to be Sister, and Mommie just wants to get away with murder.

If we laugh as this wigged-out version of the Orestian trilogy, what does that response say about its black humor? Only that every production of a great classic makes peace with its audience. No masks appear here, but the operatic performance of the original sure turns up in references to Hollywood and stage history. All these changes create the impression that Western theater could just as easily begin with us and work its way backwards.

These offspring plot with lysergic acid, indeed, just as Medea mastered poison. The Greeks also warned that their quest for truth can lead in unforeseen directions. This film could even teach Romeo and Juliet a thing or two about chemistry; fakery becomes just another weapon in investigations. James Thurber expressed the underlying principle in his 1939 story "The Unicorn in the Garden:" "Don't count your boobies before they are hatched."

For boobies, gardens, and a consummate drag queen playing a woman madder than any wet hen, catch this movie! It coops these birds where they belong in the end -- they always leave a fluttery trail.

Meg Curtis

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