The importance of being Joan Crawford
Lypsinka's 'The Passion of the Crawford' animates the Plush
by Richard Dodds
The Passion of the Crawford, now at the Empire Plush Room, uses a recording of an onstage interview that Joan Crawford gave in 1973, and that John Epperson, as Lypsinka in Crawford drag, expertly mouth mimes. It may seem like a stunt, but it works on too many levels to carry such a limiting label.
First off, it's both fun and interesting to hear the actual interview, with Crawford providing answers that are revealing in ways intentional and not. And, of course, her responses are now filtered through all the gossip and information that has emerged since her death. Finally, we get Lypsinka's interpretation of Crawford that makes its own commentary on what she said and what we know.
At times, it feels as if we are almost at the original event, and many in the opening-night audience regularly applauded her answers to questions about favorite films and co-stars. The actual interviewer was old-school publicist John Springer, and Steve Hasley, looking like Clark Kent, adds a layer of smarm in his own expertly lip-synched performance. This, in turn, provides Lypsinka's Crawford reason to fire off dirty looks or even recoil at his attempts at familiarity.
The soundtrack occasionally veers from the interview to offer aural illustration of a song that is mentioned, or Crawford's mothering techniques. At one point, we flash back to the infamous Christmas radio broadcast of 1949 with Crawford explaining her dispiriting gift policy, while children Christina and Christopher perkily concur.
After the 1973 interview is over, Lypsinka returns to enact a couple of readings Crawford did on television, including the treacly Desiderata and an appalling tribute to children that doesn't need much enhancement from Lypsinka to be scary. The 60-minute show ends with a madhouse collection of sound-bites that sees Crawford implode under the stress of her heavily managed, but ultimately unmanageable life.
The Passion of the Crawford is loaded with laughs, some of which certainly come from mockery, but your final reaction may surprise you. "Poor Joan," I mumbled as I exited back into the real world.
The Passion of the Crawford will run at the Empire Plush Room through May 21. Tickets are $35 & $40. Call (866) 468-3399 or go to www.empireplushroom.com.