By Jim Hagerty
What has been called young and innovative, The West Side Show Room proved it’s more than just a fringe theater company, with its production of the Charles Busch hit, Vampire Lesbians of Sodom.
Directed by Mike Werckle, the production ran Dec. 20-Jan. 4 in a downtown space formerly occupied by a convenience store and
hair salon. A few coats of paint, about 50 or 60 folding chairs and makeshift stage transformed the room into a perfect setting for a stellar run, marked by a cast of keenly picked regional players.
’Sodom tells the story of two seductive vampiresses, Magda Legerdemaine and Madelaine Astarte, who meet in ancient Sodom and battle for eternal survival. Along the way, the rivals pose as Broadway and early Hollywood players before a final clash in 1980’s Las Vegas.
Those familiar with the play expected a meticulously raucous production, and the animated flair of the fringe core. Werckle’s cast more than lived up to that requirement, aided largely by his in-drag role of Legerdemaine, a performance as close to anything Busch has done since ’Sodom premiered at New York’s Limbo Lounge in 1984.
Producer Liz Newman, as Astarte, brought a precocious element to the role, a key ingredient in the antagonistic and quintessentially hilarious battle between evil and evil. Witty gaffes, soliloquized puns and lightly peppered sexual overtones lent to a superbly costumed show.
Vampire Lesbians of Sodom was presented in companion with Busch’s Sleeping Beauty or Coma, a clever depiction of a 1960’s cutthroat London fashion industry. It follows Enid Wetwhistle, a young office temp, inadvertently selected to model the new fashion line of tyrannical designer Sebastian Lore.
Played by an in-drag Thomas Luna, Enid, later Briar Rose, is a no-show on the runway, sparking Lore (Second City Training’s Kevin Poole) to take his revenge by spiking her drink with LSD.
Poole — along with Luna, Chad Brazzle (Rockford’s ArtHaus Apartments & Gallery), David Mortenson, as Ian McKenzie, Newman, as Miss Thick, Vickie Lynn (Anthea Arlo), Alex Ruano (Craig Prince) and Genny Bonavia (Fauna Alexander) — uses a unique mastery that holds the cast to a true, comic book depiction of the psychedelic era.
Well worth the $12 and few cans of Pabst
Blue Ribbon, both Busch adaptations and The West Side Show Room were everything a big city could offer in a fringe company. The room oozes a back-alley beatnik energy of New York and Chicago, yet embraces what’s unique to Rockford, namely its storied strip on the corner of Church and Mulberry streets.
The West Side Show Room is at 410 Mulberry St., next to the former Parthenios diner.
From the Jan. 8-14, 2014, issue