As even casual movie buffs are likely to know, "Mommie Dearest," the 1981 Faye Dunaway psycho-drama about the abusive relationship between Joan Crawford and her adopted daughter Christina, is regarded as a camp classic of unintentional awfulness. Lines like "No wire hangers!" and "This ain't my first time at the rodeo!" have taken on their own life. That's both an advantage and a drawback for actor/writer Jamie Morris, who has some fun with the film in his sketch-comedy "Mommie Queerest," now at the Onyx.
Morris and three other male cast members follow the basic outline of the movie. But this time, the tale comes with exaggerated asides, one-liners, double and quadruple takes, and lots of physical comedy. And then there's the script's piece de resistance: Crawford, it turns out, is a man.
The danger in all this is that we've been laughing at "Mommie Dearest" for decades, and I'm not sure there's much comic freshness to discover in the source material. Morris' script has its share of charm, and director Christopher Kenney gets the most out of it, but too many of the jokes feel recycled.
As a performer, Morris exudes the vitality and wit that is missing from his writing. His makeup produces a frightening reminder of the older Crawford, who, late in her career, became a caricature of herself. Morris spits out his lines with such ferocity and commitment that you can't not watch him. And he's equally adept at body control. He doesn't make a move unless it helps communicate his character.
Brooks Braselman is an amusingly overage Christina, while Darren Ross and Gavyn Michaels master about a dozen roles with spot-on versatility. Kenney's pacing rarely wavers, and there's a polish to the comings and goings that keeps the evening afloat. You trust that these actors know what they're doing.
It's not till the final moments though -- which I won't detail here -- that the script suddenly feels unique and worthy of its subject. It presents a viewpoint that isn't a mere restatement of the film.
Morris' command of the stage gives pleasure, no matter how slight his words. I just wish his writing better served his acting.
Anthony Del Valle can be reached at DelValle@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.