Laughing Mater

Mommies dearest and queerest in new shows at Contemporary Theatre and Uptown Players

What a play, full of humor and heartbreak. And what a cast Moreno has assembled for this production. This director always does tiptop work, but with this production he has achieved two important milestones. He's revived a Preston Jones play in the style in which it was first performed three decades ago. And he's done something other directors have tried and failed to do: Turned Sue Loncar into a by-gawd wonderful actress.

Loncar is the artistic director of and resident leading lady at Contemporary Theatre, which she founded more than five years ago in a hulking converted church building off Lower Greenville Avenue. Casting her in anything isn't easy. She's tall, skinny but top-heavy and in her 40s, too old for ingénues and too young for Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit. Loncar's own Texas drawl is as thick as gravy and when she wants to get dramatic onstage she has a tendency to throw her hands on her hips, jut out her chin and bray.

She's been up and down in starring roles, mostly dithering Southern mothers such as M'Lynn in Steel Magnolias and Boo in The Last Night of Ballyhoo. But with Lu Ann, Loncar has arrived at last, finding her center as an actress and turning in a performance that is relaxed, confident and ultimately very moving.

Sue Loncar (right) shines as West Texas divorcée Lu Ann Hampton Laverty in CTD's latest (with John Venable and Kevin Grammer, left and center).
George Wada
Sue Loncar (right) shines as West Texas divorcée Lu Ann Hampton Laverty in CTD's latest (with John Venable and Kevin Grammer, left and center).

Details

Lu Ann Hampton Laverty Oberlandercontinues through May 6 at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, 214-828-0094.

Die, Mommy, Die!continues through May 6 at Uptown Players, 214-219-2718.

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No subtlety required for Uptown's Die, Mommy, Die! There is no such thing as "too big" in a Charles Busch play, and this production isn't just over the top, it's exploding at the seams.

Uptown goes to town with plays like this—a send-up of 1960s Douglas Sirk-style movie melodramas starring a man as the ultra-glamorous heroine. Only Dallas' own en traviste expert Coy Covington could so delectably convey the Stanwyck-ian allure of Angela Arden, an aging chanteuse cuckolding her fat movie producer husband (Jim Johnson) with a slick-haired but untrustworthy tennis pro (Cameron McElyea). Conspiring to murder her are slut-alicious daughter Edie (Leslie Patrick) and psycho-babbling son Lance (Chad Peterson).

Uptown couldn't do Busch plays if they didn't have Covington, an actor who can convey in one twist of his perfectly lacquered lips both menace and mockery. He has a cult of fans at this theater, where he also played the female lead in Busch's similarly movie-spoofy Red Scare on Sunset. In Die, Mommy, Die! Covington earns rafter-shaking laughter with his exquisitely timed gestures, precision-crafted head-snaps and, wait, just where is that key light? Oh, there it is.

The plot of the show is too silly for words (rent the Bette Davis movie Dead Ringers if you're spoiling for spoilers), but the silliness is what it's all about (dig the LSD trip scene, baby). Directed by Andi Allen, this one also boasts the most lavish costumes (designed by Suzi Shankle) of any Uptown show this season. When's the last time you heard a crowd ooh, aah and applaud for a Schiaparelli-pink sheath worn by a man?

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