By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Every one of these sharp performances owes something to the self-conscious eccentricities of the television cast they're imitating. Williams' scarily accurate Mrs. Garrett is matched by Chris Peterson's scarily accurate Natalie, who laughs at everything she says (just like the TV Nat, Mindy Cohn), even when announcing her parents are dead. Kevin Moore's Jo takes on some of Nancy McKeon's swagger, but Moore doesn't even try to be feminine. He's a guy in a girl's school uniform—much the way McKeon played Jo, come to think of it. Cameron Kirkpatrick looks nothing like Kim Fields, but even on skates he manages to capture the original Tootie's flippy emotional instability. Chad Peterson super-sizes all the annoying affectations of the original Blair, Lisa Whelchel. The exaggerated hair-flipping and Lolita-esque posing become more than visual punch lines; they're comments on the ghastly, amateurish acting styles acceptable in the sitcoms of yore.
Created by comedy team Jenna McMahon and Dick Clair, The Facts of Life offered nine years of thinly written, hammily acted "very special episodes." Like the time Tootie brought home free bongs from the record store. "You put jellybeans in 'em!" she said. (She really should have been in special ed.) Mrs. Garrett at first was aghast at the glass tubes, then reconsidered, saying "I don't like to look a gift bong in the mouth." This was TV circa 1985 on a series that un-ironically titled one of its made-for-TV movie specials The Facts of Life Down Under.
Some now-famous actors passed through the halls of Eastland back then, including George Clooney (who had a recurring role and caterpillar eyebrows), Molly Ringwald (cut after the first season), David Spade and Helen Hunt. In one of its later seasons, the show introduced a new character, Blair's cousin Geri, played by Geri Jewell, a stand-up comedian with cerebral palsy. Her presence may have been the writers' attempt to teach young viewers a lesson in acceptance of disabilities, but it provided some of the most awkward and unfunny moments in sitcom history.
The Lost Episode includes "Geri" in a bawdy cameo that so shocked the opening night audience, someone yelled "You're going to hell!" from the back of the house. Yes, they go there and back, and back again and again.
Playwright Morris, who flew in from his home in Las Vegas for first night of the Uptown production, first found success with Mommie Queerest, a comedy that "reveals" that Joan Crawford was actually a dude. His next play, Lucy & Ethel, will re-imagine the vintage TV pals as Thelma and Louise.
Viewer discretion is advised.