Somewhere over the rainbow, somewhere between a gay cabaret act and a legit comedy with musical parodies is where you will find Tommy Femia in this drag star vehicle “Norma Doesmen” doing his best to satirize the classic Billy Wilder film noir “Sunset Boulevard” and its star Gloria Swanson who played Norma Desmond. Get it?
If not, you will be clobbered over the head with sexual innuendos, wild acting styles, and outlandish costumes until you do. If you are going to parody this classic you must be up to the challenge. To parody the sardonic Billy Wilder one needs a razor sharp wit. Stephen Stahl who wrote this odd piece of theatrical ridiculousness and who also directed with a heavy hand doesn’t. Sexual jokes can only go so far to help a limp script.
Modern day references are all over the place – with particular offense being taken by bringing up things to look forward to: McCarthy, assassinations, sexually transmitted diseases and Anita Bryant which stopped what comedy there was cold in its tracks.
Tastelessness abounds. That is, except for the extremely well appointed Gothic set designed by James Lyons which includes the requisite stained glass windows, Persian carpet, potted ferns and dimly lit lights to flatter the aging or is it ageless star of the show – the faded, over sexed and delusional Norma of the silent screen who is seeking a comeback playing Salome.
She’s gotten herself a writer – the young stud Joe Dillis (Bryan R. Caine) who plays deadpan against her histrionics. He actually is quite good at times but a bit inconsistent whenever he isn’t narrating or having to deal with his narcoleptic girlfriend Betty ShaveHer (ouch!) played unconvincingly by Christina Giordano. With all due respect she doesn’t have much to work with having to fall asleep often at the drop of a cue.
Norma’s Germanic butler Max (Ken Shepard) is required to wear the most embarrassing outfits and cavort around the stage with his feather duster like a lunatic let loose from an asylum. Or has living with Norma taken its toll on him? He does an outstanding job.
But the night belongs to Tommy Femia whose wild eyes dart around trying to focus on any reality available. Taking stage center declaring that it is all about “Me! Me!! Me!!!! When he has good material he is great and when he doesn’t well it’s not his fault. He does get to imitate Chaplin, tango, rub against Joe, get out a few very good one liners and run off stage often to change his elaborate if somewhat tacky costumes. He has the character down pat. But it’s not enough to sustain two acts of utter nonsense.
Norma Doesmen is not ready for her close-up. At the Abingdon Theatre through March 28th.
www.normadoesmen.com Photo:Milton Perry