Grab your swimsuit and martini shaker, kids. It’s time for summer camp!
If you’ve been to Buffalo United Artists’ annual drag romp, roasting the queerest classics of pop culture with a wink, a nod and a tuck – if you, indeed, summer at BUA – then you know.
You know what a bow-topped gift it is to see master thespian Jimmy Janowski parade his mascara-drooped eyelashes, taught padded corset and sturdy heels through cinema’s most famous scenes.
Janowski takes his turn as the vivaciously vicious Joan Crawford, as immortalized by Faye Dunaway in 1981’s drama-turned-camp classic “Mommie Dearest” – based on daughter Christina Crawford’s tell-all memoir framing her as a controlling, abusive nightmare. Dunaway’s extra-laden performance is ridiculous at its tamest moments, and criminal at its most insane. When she famously reprimands Christina for using wire hangers, you want to pick up the phone and call Child Protective Services.
It’s the kind of scene-chewing performance that has Janowski’s teeth marks all over it. If you attended during the run’s opening weekend, you might have mistaken his claw marks for a booth at the nearby Taste of Buffalo. If there’s one revision I’d make it would be to add Janowski’s swiveling shoulders to the cast list; they emerge whenever he walks across the stage, as if to push his body forward to the next weighty insult. Is he about to throw a javelin?
This isn’t his first time at this rodeo, having led BUA’s 2012 staging of Jamie Morris’ script. Director Todd Warfield and co-stars Michael Blasdell, Michael Seitz and Christopher Standart are back, too.
This is a hard-working foursome, navigating Morris’ choppy, sarcastically cinematic script with swift pivots and quicker costume changes. They have a warm ease between them, as they should. It’s nice to see professionals work so well with each other, supporting their unique skills with patience and humility, especially during the inevitable character break.
When on opening night an audience member’s cellphone began to ring (with a rather campy ringtone, might I add) you hoped that Janowski, mid-fight with Seitz as Crawford’s agent, would respond. (If anyone is gonna channel Patti LuPone’s infamous cellphone speech, it had better be Janowski.) He finished his line reading to Seitz, the phone still going off, and calmly opened his next statement with a reference to the call. It was deft, it was shaming, it was professional – it was camp!
Seitz plays a diverse range of supporting characters with both charm and spazz; he’s versatile to say the least. He’s also up for anything – any. thing. – which is also camp.
Blasdell, playing the scorned Christina from young girl to vengeful adult, fills, I guess, the straight comedic role here. It’s hard to call any of these roles straight, but opposite Janowski, someone’s gotta ride in the backseat; Blasdell knows when to step back and when to step it up. If he were to slow down his line delivery during Christina’s angrier moments, no one would object.
Standart, I must say, is this production’s MVP, giving a thoroughly consistent run as a whole slew of put-upon assistants, husbands and support staff. He plays big sarcasm with little effort, just a slappy mugshot and well-placed wig, as if he doesn’t have time for us, as if we’re nothing – the campiest camp of them all.
Shaunte yourself to Alleyway before it’s too late – Aug. 4 – and a subdued autumn befalls us all with indoor voices and boring well drinks. This is a summer must you shan’t miss.
3.5 stars (out of four)
Through Aug. 4 at Alleyway Theatre, 1 Curtain Up Alley. Performances at 8 p.m. Saturdays and 7 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $20-$25 (box office, 716-886-9239, buffalounitedartists.org).