by David Lally · July 23, 2014
Jason Cruz and Everett Quinton in DROP DEAD PERFECT | John Quilty
The Peccadillo Theater Company presents Penguin Rep’s production of Drop Dead Perfect, a new comedy starring the legendary Everett Quinton. It’s playing at the Theatre at St. Clements, an absolutely beautiful theatre space in a converted church in midtown. The play follows Idris Seabright, played by Quinton, a wealthy, eccentric mistress of a Key West cottage that runs her estate with a zany flair. When her beloved ward Vivien decides to abandon the Florida Keys to pursue art in Greenwich Village, and Idris’ lawyer becomes alarmingly interested in her investments, Idris’ life begins its outrageous downward spiral. After she receives a visit from a mysterious stranger who bears an undeniable resemblance to her long-lost love, her life erupts into complete comic mayhem.
This show is very firmly planted in the tradition of the types of shows that Charles Ludlam did with his Ridiculous Theatre Company, which has been carried on in recent years by Quinton and a number of other actor/writers, including Charles Busch. So if you are thinking you are going to see something similar to The Mystery of Irma Vep or Vampire Lesbians of Sodom you are correct, although Drop Dead Perfect is played a little more in earnest. Quinton, who was mentored by Charles Ludlam, carries on the tradition of what many people would label a drag performance. I disagree with that label. Clearly there needs to be another category. It truly is a male actor playing a female role. The overdramatic and exaggerated style of acting, if played by a woman today, would be considered too theatrical and absurd. That’s because characters like Idris are written in homage to a long lost stylized form of acting that you might see in classic film noir or in weepy melodrama. And for some reason, it is totally too arch for a woman to play but somehow when a man plays this part it works beautifully.
Quinton is joined by Jason Edward Cook as Vivien, Idris’ ward, who manages to not only keep up with Quinton, but actually surpasses him (perhaps a torch is being passed?). By playing it completely grounded in reality, I suspect if I hadn’t been writing this commentary and needed to look at the program, I would say he could believably pass as a female on the street. His performance was that subtle, which is hard to be in a play that naturally leans towards the campy side. Jason Cruz as Ricardo, the afore-mentioned mysterious stranger, is the epitome of suave, slimy and sexy. His energetic performance would have stolen the show if he were in lesser company. Michael Keyloun in a dual role as The Man and Phineas Fenn, the lawyer, gave his two smaller parts a lot of shading and rounded out the four nicely.
You will definitely be entertained by the quick pace of this show. There is not a moment that drags. I would be remiss if I didn’t give a tip of the hat to the gorgeous costumes (and these types of shows are always inevitably a costume parade for the actors playing female roles). Thank you to Charlotte Palmer-Lane. The very authentic and detailed period set by James J. Fenton and moody lighting by Ed McCarthy, are appropriate for time and place. The sound cues by William Neal, including the liberal use of scoring music, made you feel like you were watching an old movie.
Director and Penquin Rep founder Joe Brancato knows his material and knows how it should be played. What was not so drop dead perfect? Without giving away what happens, I have to say I felt a bit set-up by the excellent title, thinking I was in for a campy and clever whodunit or maybe a tortured melodrama about a woman obsessed with perfection (Harriet Craig anyone?). The show was neither of these. Instead, it played like a very good extended sketch. This is novelist-turned-playwright Erasmus Fenn’s first dramatic work. He credits “an overexposure to early television sitcoms and Alfred Hitchcock’s Stories They Wouldn’t Let Me Tell on TV, as well as the tales his father told him about his early years lawyering in south Florida”, as inspirations for the play. He’s got the set-up, the style and the funny dialogue down perfectly. You can see the novelist’s touches with the care and attention to detail he gives his play. Personally, I just wanted to see more play. Perhaps that is why The Man narrated the beginning and ending of the show, because otherwise it would have lacked a conclusion.