Picture it – Chicago, 2017 – four men, David Cerda, Ed Jones, AJ Wright, and Adrian Hadlock, play four of the most beloved senior women in American pop culture, “Dorothy Zbornak,” “Rose Nylund,” “Blanche Devereaux,” and “Sophia Petrillo.” Hell in a Handbag Productions’ “The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes” succeeds in so many ways from the opening “Thank You for Being a Friend” singalong to Ed Jones’ near perfect Rose Nylund confused look to David Cerda’s cries of “Ma!,” and ominous Shady Pines references. For any true “Golden Girls” fan, the parody, written by Cerda, is a treat, if a little more earthy than the already fairly bawdy original.
The large and appreciative audience at club-like Mary’s Attic in Andersonville on Wednesday night, enjoyed a story centered on the fate of Sophia, who has been acting up again, and may have to go to the “Dade County Compound for the Aged and Mentally Ill.” Shady Pines is now too expensive. Over a cheesecake at the kitchen table, the girls look back on the many antics indicating that Sophia may be out of control, but who can tell as Dorothy, Blanche, and Rose are up to their own shenanigans. One never knows how far a “Golden Girl” might go, but a Handbag’s “Golden Girl” is certain to go unashamedly too far.
The four main players clearly studied their television counterparts. Cerda’s Dorothy may not tower over the rest of the cast like Bea Arthur did in the original series, but his portrayal of existing, yet limited, common sense, and stern warnings to the other characters give a similar effect. Hadlock’s Sophia is reminiscent of the dry wit of Estelle Getty, delivering many of her famous quips with much of the same tone and timing. Jones’ caffeine induced Rose Nylund dance moves are hysterical, and a little mystifying as they go from frenetic to almost skillful. Wright shares Rue McClanahan’s gift for pouty, but unconvincing guile.
Many of the series’ supporting characters join the main players as the parody whips up into frenzy of insults, sexual innuendo, and dark comedy. Notably, Lori Lee plays Stan, Dorothy’s “love to hate” ex-husband even creepier than the original, and Michael S. Miller’s Harry Weston is a study in the quirky mannerisms of the original actor, Richard Mulligan. Kristopher Botrall is a snarky sweet Daisy, one of the “Sunshine Cadets,” known for kidnapping and dismembering Rose’s teddy bear. Blanche’s brother, Clayton, doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing there. Her daughter, Janet is mad at her self-involved mother, as usual. Rose’s blind sister, Lilly, Dorothy’s son, Michael and his African-American wife, Lorraine, show up to skewer the failures of the original series’ handling of disability, racism, and hypocricy on ageism. The “Golden Girls” tried, but was never a match for real satire on the deeper issues of the day, and perhaps that’s what Cerda is pointing out.
Among the problems with the show are the constant dialogue flubs, and the way-too-small stage for the crowd of characters, many attempting outrageous flamboyance, and physical comedy. The costumes and wigs were great, creating a fun drag version of the Miami senior scene vibe, but the makeup looked a little sloppy, providing the necessary camp. In Act Two, much of what’s left of the dialogue gets lost in the confusion. Also, the criticism of the typical foibles of a television sitcom, with its re-casting of characters over the seasons, unexplained disappearances and changed circumstances, may be excessive, but surely every “Golden Girls” fan still wonders what happened to their gay cook from the pilot, and why did four former wives and homemakers need a cook, more than a friend or neighbor, in the first place.
For many watching late-night re-runs of “Golden Girls” after a long or difficult day, the series became a warm, welcome, and comforting hideout. Handbag’s version isn’t exactly comforting, but it brings out the warmth and welcome of the original, with a heavy dose of the bizarre, ridiculous, and exquisitely vulgar required for an affectionate, yet relevant parody. The audience ate it up, and the show is so popular that the company has had to add shows to accommodate the crowds.
Photos by Rick Aguilar Studios