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Campy Cruelty with Off the Wall's 'Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?'

Aug. 22, 2017
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Off the Wall Theatre turns its tiny stage over to Blanche and Jane Hudson as it remounts Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Once again, Dale Gutzman’s campy adaptation of the 1962 movie features local theater veterans Jeremy Welter and Mark Hagen taking turns as the two leads. True to the campiness that Gutzman has written into the script, both Welter and Hagen take to the stage with an overly theatrical amplification that is both reasonably humorous and slightly disturbing.

Fading famous actress Blanche is bound to a wheelchair, captive of her sadistic sister, Jane, who has always resented her for her success. Welter approaches the over-the-top comic drama with an earnestness that serves the production well. Hagen has a multi-layered grasp of subtlety in humor that blossoms quite well in the tongue-in-cheek end of Gutzman’s humor.

The rest of the scenes flow in and around the two actors without impeding them too much. We get enough of the story beyond the two central characters to know what’s going on. Things stumble across the stage with an exaggerated gracelessness that sometimes serves to amplify the darker ends of the story. On one level this is a light spoof of a cult classic film, but on another level it’s exploring casual human viciousness with a garish, crooked smile that’s far more sinister than anything one might expect from straight-ahead drama. Whether it’s taken as light comedy or something far darker, it’s hard to ignore what Dale Gutzman and company have done with this production.

Through Aug. 27 at Off the Wall Theatre, 127 E. Wells St. For tickets call 414-484-8874 or visit zivacat.com/offthewalltheatre.

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