Joan Crawford occupies a bizarre cultural role, simultaneously idolized as a film legend and fetishized as a campy cult icon--and often by the same people. This duality comes both from her occasionally illustrious acting career, which includes performances in such films as Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and Mildred Pierce, and as a result of the tell-all biography Mommie Dearest, written after Crawford's death by her adopted daughter Christina. The 1981 film adaptation of Christina's book starred Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford and became an instant classic, thanks largely to Dunaway's performance.
The touring play Mommie Queerest revisits the film's most notorious and beloved scenes, from the infamous wire coat hanger episode to the chilling command, "Tina! Bring me the axe!" It's not just a spoof, though--it's a spoof with a twist. In New York playwright Jamie Morris' deliciously catty rendition, Crawford is actually a man, albeit a man in heels wearing some very pretty dresses. Factor in that Morris stars as Crawford (or stars as Dunaway starring as Crawford, as penned by Christina as reworked by Morris), and you have yourself quite a meta-muddle--which, thank god, you don't even have to think about, because any play that includes a two-minute long fart sequence doesn't really give a fuck about who's writing whom.
In Mommie Queerest, each joke is taken to such dizzying altitudes of absurdity that after a point I wasn't so much laughing as gasping for oxygen. Morris dominates the stage as Crawford, matching grotesque facial expressions and overblown gestures with confident timing (he also has better legs than most women). The rest of the four-man ensemble changes wigs and characters with a frantic energy that makes this production irresistible.
The script itself is merciless--harping on poor, haggard Joan Crawford's oft-noted resemblance to a second-rate drag queen is only the first of many, many cheap shots to come. Mommie Queerest serves as a reminder that while laughing with someone may be the Christian thing to do, laughing at them is a lot more fun.