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‘Glen or Glenda’ faithfully adapts 1953 docudrama about sex change

The Midnight Fomato Society strikes again and turns the worst film ever made into a show so funny, it’s worth losing sleep over. “Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda” is faithfully adapted by director John Tomasello from B-movie director Ed Wood’s 1953 docudrama about sex change.

If you haven’t seen the film it won’t detract from the fun, but I recommend looking it up on YouTube because, as a critic once said of a John Waters film, “it has to be seen to be disbelieved.” Some of the play’s most bizarre lines sound like Tomasello’s spoofs, but actually he follows the film almost word for word.

“Glen or Glenda’s” unintentional humor is due to its earnest quasi-documentary style. The search for gender identity is a serious subject but the film is at its most bizarre when it intends to be most heartfelt, for example when it deals with the pain that a transgendered person may feel when bullied over gender ambiguity. Wood himself was apparently a transvestite.

Tomasello’s comic genius is to transform the awkward seriousness of the film into funny gags that actually more effectively convey the film’s intended message. For example, when two male construction workers discuss the headlines about a recent sex change, a thinly veiled reference to Christine Jorgensen, one protests that if every man who wanted to dress like a woman went out and changed their sex, there’d be no men left. Tomasello has women in drag play the construction workers (Olga Rios and Ivy Cerelle Floirendo make a funny duo).

The boy-meets-girl-boy-becomes-girl plot is too convoluted for a brief synopsis. Wood wanted to make a film about his experience as a transvestite, but the film’s producer wanted to capitalize on the notoriety of Christine Jorgensen’s recent sex change. The result is two different films, one about Glen/Glenda and the other about Alan/Ann, tied together by an extended narrative spoken by the Psychiatrist. There is a truly weird prologue by Bela Lugosi as the “Scientist.” He also appears during the film’s surreal BDSM dream sequence.

And speaking of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” Tomasello cleverly decorates the set in black and white in homage to the original film, introducing color only during the dream sequence.

Stephen R. Sisson is magnificent as Bela Lugosi playing the Scientist. The character is already over-the-top and Sisson takes him over-the-Stratosphere. Yet he never loses control of the character and always remains believable as Bela Lugosi. Beware the green dragon!

Kihapilani Akui as the Psychiatrist who narrates the entire play carries out his tough assignment, playing off the hilariously wooden Inspector Warren (well-played by Scott Roberts), with elegant comic dead pan.

Funny man Glenn Heath as Glen/Glenda perfectly captures the absurd sincerity of Ed Wood who played the role himself in the film, credited as “Daniel Davis.” Heath is ably partnered by Anita Bean, a good actress playing a bad actress very well in the role of Glen’s fiancé, Barbara (played by Wood’s real-life girlfriend, Dolores Fuller in the film). In the surreal dream sequence Glen rescues Barbara from being crushed to death by a giant Y-chromosome.

The Midnight Fomato Society’s supporting ensemble provides the rich comic layering that keeps the audience laughing. Standouts include Brian McGee as a gleeful Devil and the comically seductive Kathy Lui.

“A lady is a lady whatever the case may be,” says the Psychiatrist. But at a Midnight Fomato Society show the audience is anything but genteel. Bags of faux tomatoes (“packed lovingly with child labor”) are available for twenty dollars or a buck each to throw at the actors. The money earned from the sales goes to the actors. Part of the fun is to watch the actors stay in character under a barrage of fomatoes. But watch out, because they will throw them right back.

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