Island ETC East End Theatre’s latest show gives you a funhouse mirror look at the 1980s when everything was bigger — the shoulder pads, hair and bitchy put-downs.
“Re-Designing Women” is an unauthorized parody of the TV show “Designing Women” with all the characters played by men in drag. In the first half we are reunited with the ladies of Sugarbaker’s Design Firm, learn of their financial troubles and scheme to appear on a reality TV show to regain fame and fortune. The second half is an episode of the reality TV series.
It’s a quirky concept that could have been used to make satirical comment on everything from reality TV and gender roles to how we live now compared to in the 1980s; instead playwright Jamie Morris keeps it silly and shallow and goes for the laughs.
Director Kim Mytelka has created a campy comedy with good performances from all the actors. If 1980s nostalgia and sitcom gags are your thing, then you will love this show, especially if you check your brain at the door.
Chris Pool channels both Delta Burke and Elizabeth Taylor in his portrayal of Suzanne Sugarbaker; with his scheming and sultry eyes, he’s the perfect embodiment of an ’80s diva. One of the funniest moments of opening night was a bit of physical humor between him and Matt Poole, who plays reality TV impresario Andy Cohen.
Kevin Daugherty captures Annie Potts’ daffy charm as Mary Jo while Kyle Crawford has a lot of fun as the ditsy blonde Charlene. His rendition of her country and western song about shrinking was another opening night highlight.
Eddie Robinson shows off his talents in a campy and quirky performance as Bernice. He captures both Alice Ghostley’s distinctive voice and also the current Betty White-inspired trend of elders behaving badly.
Cameron Dunbar channels Dixie Carter’s fire as Julia Sugarbaker, although sometimes he’s too shouty. He knocked it out of the park for the “Night the lights went out in Georgia,” speech which was a standout moment of the original TV show (YouTube it).
Johnny Nichols endures a lot as the ex-con delivery driver Anthony, the only male character in the show. He has a great cameo as Nene Leakes — the “Real Housewife” people love to hate.
On the design side, Tom Boone’s set evokes the original TV show with its grand entrance and staircase. Lisa Miller’s lighting is underdone and the use of a flashlight instead of a spotlight was ill conceived.
Jennifer Daugherty’s projections are very ’80s tacky. Jutta Franklin’s costumes are good but could have been even glitzier, especially as this is a parody. Of course big hair is an ’80s essential, and Matthew Reeves Oliver’s wigs styled by Tony Garcia are satisfyingly voluminous.
Watching “Re-Designing Women” is a bit like binging on wine coolers; it’ll transport you back to the ’80s and make you laugh out loud, maybe even snort drink out of your nose. The next morning you’ll think you had a good time, but the details will be fuzzy and unmemorable.