Ah, Hollywood in the 1950s where, as one character puts it, “the goddesses of the silver screen frolic in tasteful two-pieces: lavender ladies, far from the glare of Eisenhower America. At dusk, they mix dry martinis and rhumba beside the turquoise pool.”
Those “lavender ladies” were gay and closeted, unwelcome in polite ‘50s society, so they hung out at the Desert Knight Hotel in Palm Springs, where they could cavort beyond the glare of the anti-gay ’50s spotlight.
The Desert Knight was run by “slut of Olympic proportions” Dee Dee Windom, talent agent turned real estate mogul, who not only hosted silver screen lesbians but badgered them into wise investments.
It’s 1979 when the curtain rises on the world premiere of Zsa Zsa Gershick’s “Coming Attractions,” and wide-eyed film fanatic (and aspiring filmmaker) Rebecca “Beck” Metz (Amanda Morrow) arrives to check out this little piece of Tinseltown history.
She will soon learn that Dee Dee has died after a stroke, and some of her friends are about to return from the funeral.
Chief among them are Navy nurse-turned-hotel manager Dani Decker (Sylvia M’Lafi Thompson), who over the years has seen it all; kindly supermarket maven Morris Gordon (Mark Petrich) and his current Quaalude-popping boy toy Donovan Tate (Benjamin Cole, a tall, rangy hoot in high heels and short dresses).
Arriving late for the funeral is aging former star Veronica Scott (Robin Christ), a noir-era femme fatale whose career ended abruptly when she was outed in the ’50s. But she still commands – and gets – both attention and deference.
Along for the ride are Dee Dee’s ghost (wonderfully played by Jill Drexler) and Anita Bryant, orange juice spokesperson and antigay activist extraordinaire (played with deliciously fake religiosity by Samantha Ginn), only seen by Donovan in his pill-induced hazes.
“You have made a homosexual lifestyle choice?” Anita asks Donovan.
“ A homosexual lifestyle choice is whether to put shag carpet or linoleum in the sunroom,” he sniffs.
Christ makes the most of her star turn as Veronica, in Jeannie Galioto’s long slinky dresses, carelessly tossed fur stole and constant glass of gin. She is as self-obsessed and predatory as you please, and talks a blue streak to boot.
Thompson’s Dani, as opposite Veronica’s style as you can get, anchors the piece with her understated, down-to-earth approach and quiet wisdom.
Petrich’s “supermarket queen” Morris adds kindliness to the overwhelming self-involvement and sharklike behavior otherwise on view.
Angelica Ynfante’s slightly dilapidated hotel set – complete with orange and palm trees – seems perfect for the proceedings, as are Galioto’s terrific costumes.
Playwright Zsa Zsa Gershick (author of the similarly-themed “Bluebonnet Court,” co-produced in 2008 by Moxie and Diversionary Theatres), has a facility with funny and stinging one-liners. But “Coming Attractions” could use less talk and more drama, especially in the second act, where the characters seem to feel the need to explain everything.
Word to the wise: Ask for a seat in the back – the constant smoking, even of herbal cigarettes, is more than a little annoying.
“Coming Attractions” plays through July 1 at Moxie Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Blvd. Suite N.
Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm.
For tickets, call (858) 598-7620 or visit HERE.
To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.