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Shut Up, Sweet Charlotte
a Drag Parody
by (None Credited)

COMPANY : Reaction Productions
VENUE : 14th Street Playhouse [WEBSITE]
ID# 3287

SHOWING : January 22, 2009 - January 31, 2009



In this "'Suthen' Gothic Thriller in One Ax!" Drag Sensation Varla Jean Merman channels Olivia DeHavilland to retell the story of "Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte." Two cousins are reunited to save the family mansion from destruction, to resolve a haunting family secret, and most importantly, to fight to the death for top billing.

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Kind of a Drag
by Dedalus
Thursday, February 5, 2009
“Shut Up, Sweet Charlotte,” a drag send-up of the movie “Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte,” has moved into the 14th Street Playhouse for a thankfully short two-week run. Not to beat around the bush, this was one of most singularly unpleasant theatrical experiences I’ve had in some time. A seeming parody that does nothing with the original movie script other than cast men in the three main “Diva” roles, it did not have a single laugh, or a single moment that could recommend it. Okay, there was one thing in its favor – it’s short (75 minutes).

And yet, I was just as singularly alone in my contempt for this piece. The almost sold-out crowd screamed with laughter at gags that were old when I was young, at lines that had less panache than the admittedly lame title of this review, at performances that were lamely outrageous without being amusing (as if outrageousness was an end in and of itself), and at a script that held obvious contempt for the characters and for the actresses who originally assayed them.

Varla Jean Merman (Jeffery Roberson) takes on the Olivia De Havilland role of Miriam Deering. She obviously had a reputation with the attending crowd (spontaneous applause on her first entrance), but I found her performance embarrassingly bad. Finding every opportunity to wiggle her oversized bosom (which seemed to change size with each costume change), she also took every opportunity to strip down to her bra and panties, and, I must apologetically say it wasn’t a pretty (or funny) sight. She had no character to speak of, her pacing seemed to suggest waiting for laughs before every line, and she even sang for an overlong painfully off-key number. This was not a camp characterization or an exercise in flamboyant excess, it was a contemptible exercise in self-indulgence. At one point, she even carries on a packing box stenciled with a New York Times quote praising herself. And yet, this audience ate up everything she did.

In the Bette Davis role of Charlotte, Ricky Graham has more of a character, yet he still indulges in over-the-top line readings that dwell more on caricature than on anything approaching acceptability. In the Agnes Moorhead role, Brooks Braselman is almost believable, but her routine seemed to be emphasizing his drooping-to-the-waistline bosom, a gag not funny the first time and even more tiring the more it’s repeated (and it is repeated often).

Technically, the set copied the movie fairly well (but my memory of the movie may be fuzzy on this), and a small model at the top set up a gag that should have paid off (but didn’t). The lighting, unfortunately, left too many characters in the dark, or in the shadowy parts of ill-focused gobos. I suppose I should be thankful for any part of this play that could not be clearly seen, but it just seemed to add insult to injury.

I have nothing against drag shows in general and I often enjoy drag parodies in particular. And “Hush Hush” is ripe for such a parody. But it should be done with a measure of respect, or at least affection. This was an exercise in contempt, and I can only respond with my own contempt. It was a satire that satirized nothing, a comedy without a single laugh or even smile, an exercise in outrageousness that substituted unrealistic excess with outrage, and a play that would try the patience of anyone with a taste for theater or humor or acting.

And yet, this crowd rose to their feet with gay abandon at the end. I couldn’t even force myself to clap. It’s seventy-five minutes of my life I’ll never get back. I should have rented “Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte.”

-- Brad Rudy (



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