"Forgive my appearance. I've been up to my elbows all day in manure."
And with that Charles Busch enters stage left through the garden door dressed head to toe in a beautiful floral print dress/slacks combo. The hair and makeup are flawless. He hesitates and waits. The audience roars. He tilts his head and looks coyly at the crowd. More applause. Then he delivers his next line as the fading femme fatale Angela Arden.
That's Charles Busch, the diva channeling another diva in his play, Die Mommie Die, now playing at the New World Stages here in New York. Die Mommie Die is Mr. Busch's return to Broadway and tells the story of Angela Arden and her rather dysfunctional family. It's filled with sex, blackmail and murder most sweet.
The play begins in 1957 with a series of projections telling the story of Arden's falling and fading star. Once America's Sweetheart, as told through a series of magazine covers, movie stills and album covers, Angela now finds herself box office poison. Turns out Marie Antoinette - The Musical was a flop. Her career unwinds and her singing abilities falter. Also, there's mention of the tragic suicide death of her twin sister, Barbara. All this leads to her retirement from show business.
It's now 1967, and that's where we join the action. She's married to Sol Sussman, a very famous Hollywood producer who's career seems to be on the decline as well. He's back from Europe trying with no success to raise funds for his latest feature. His over-excited/mini-skirt wearing daughter Edie is overjoyed at his return. Whereas his wife Angela is more interested in trying to revive her career and leaving Hollywood for a Greenwich Village apartment to share with her tennis instructor lover, Tony. You realize that perhaps Tony might be more interested in Angela's money, or perhaps something else. At one point she tells him, "You've slipped into my life as easily as vermouth into a glass of gin... quickly and just a bit too smooth." It's that kind of stilted language that runs rampant throughout the show. Needless to say, the affair is discovered. Sol refuses to divorce her, cancels her comeback tour of the Catskill Resorts and worst of all cancels all her charge cards. She becomes a prisoner in her own home. Her only hope is murder. Cue the dramatic music and the arsenic laced suppository.
Die Mommie Die channels all the great horror suspense dramas from the '50s and '60s. Think Mildred Pierce meets Hush. . . Hush Sweet Charlotte while hanging out with Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? Charles Busch plays Angela Arden to perfection with a mix of Joan Crawford, Bette Davis and Lana Turner. Some of the most entertaining moments are simply his dramatic entrances and exits. The costumes and wigs alone are worth the price of admission. The cast is great especially Kristine Nielsen as Bootsie the boozey/Bible-beating/ Republican housekeeper. The revelatory LSD induced confession scene is a little too long and could use a bit of an edit, but overall, Die Mommie Die is a campy fun night at the theater After a standing ovation Mr. Busch thanked the crowd for welcoming him back to the theater. I couldn't tell if that was Angela Arden or Charles Busch speaking. The lines between divas was blurred, but who cares. I could watch both of them over and over again.