Sometimes, in theater as in television, a production can be so bad that it’s good, like Dallas or Jersey Shore. John Epperson must have had this truism in mind when he decided on Legends! as a vehicle for his drag alter ego, Lypsinka. The James Kirkwood play was last seen on a North American tour in 2007 with Joan Collins and Linda Evans as the two weathered movie stars grasping for a career revival, and it was originally a star vehicle for Mary Martin and Carol Channing. Subtle realism it ain’t.
But as Epperson well knows, everybody loves a diva. And nobody does outrageous better than Lypsinka, the ravishing, elegant, six-foot-plus, occasionally crotch-flashing mistress of cabaret. There’s a good 20 minutes of Legends! before Lypsinka makes her entrance as prissy movie star Leatrice Monsée, but when she does, she doesn’t disappoint: Lights dim, drums crash, trumpets blare, and costar James Lecesne (resplendent in a Liz Taylor wig as Sylvia Glenn) visibly shudders.
Epperson has done his best to update Legends! for the iPhone generation—there are bitchy references to Brangelina, Anna Nicole Smith, Sarah Jessica Parker, TMZ, and even Ann Coulter. The premise goes like this: Hustler producer Martin Klemmer (Tom Story) wants a Broadway hit and needs star power. On a phone call with Brad Pitt, he attempts to get the actor to commit to his play by claiming that faded icons Glenn and Monsée are willing to star with him. Unfortunately, the two women have been sworn enemies ever since a falling-out over one of their many husbands. But Glenn, who has fallen on hard times, is looking for something to relaunch her career, so she borrows a friend’s lavish apartment to try to convince Monsée to work with her again.
Subplots involve a canceled bachelorette party, a male stripper, food stamps, and a plate of hash brownies. The distinctly awkward role of Glenn’s borrowed African-American maid is played gleefully by Roz White, who gives as good as she gets as far as snipes and jibes go. The jokes come thick and fast—Leatrice suffers from osteoporosis but dreads having to do a “Bovina” commercial like Sally Field, and nobody wants a consultation with Meg Ryan’s plastic surgeon.
Epperson can out-camp an entire national park, but constantly acknowledging that a play is truly awful doesn’t detract from its awfulness. The plot is clumsy in the extreme, the jokes are obvious, and even the performances of Lypsinka and Lecesne can’t revive a dead turkey. But that isn’t really the point. Sometimes all you need is a laugh, and Legends! has those in abundance, along with the kind of aggressive glamour that would make Alexis Colby proud.
Through July 11 at the Studio Theatre. Click here for tickets, $50-$57.