Lucky for me, Logo devoted the entire Independence Day weekend to a “Designing Women” binge-a-thon. Lifetime, TVLand, WEtv, Logo and the like have long paid homage to gay favorites like “The Golden Girls” and “Will & Grace,” and now Linda Bloodworth-Thomason’s late 1980s series about a sassy group of gals at an Atlanta interior design firm have been rediscovered.
After watching dozens of episodes, I was truly prepared for “Re-Designing Women,” the latest TV/movie parody from Jamie Morris currently playing at Empire Stage.
Over the years, Morris’ twisted sense of humor has resulted in “Mommie Queerest,” “Silence of the Clams,” and last summer’s “The Facts of Life: The Lost Episode,” all performed by men in drag and all completely campy.
In this production, the ladies of the Sugarbaker design firm, Julia (Morris), Susanne (Ashton McKay Shawyer), Mary Jo (Chad Peterson) and Charlene (Christopher Mitchell)—and don’t forget ex-con turned stockboy turned partner Anthony (Darius-Anthony Robinson)—have fallen on hard times. Overpriced throw pillows and designer tchotchkes aren’t selling like they did before the Great Recession.
Susanne gets a brilliant idea to save the business — star in their own Bravo reality series, “Sugarwalls,” an oh-so-wrong sendup on the company name, Sugarbaker, and the “walls” they decorate, with the familiar hit by Sheena Easton as the theme. One thing is sure, that’s not what Easton had in mind when she penned that song.
No reality show is complete without some fireworks. The second half takes place at the reunion special, held on a special episode of “Watch What Happens Next” with Andy Cohen (Kevin Moore). It turns out the breakout star of the show is wacky Berniece (Mikey Abrams) and everybody drinks when her signature line, “Black man, black man!” is played. Disappointed fame whore Susanne returns from a world cruise as big as the ship on which she traveled. A feud erupts between sharp-tongued Mary Jo and Charlene, who is convinced she’s shrinking.
Unlike Morris’ earlier parodies, the script AND the cast, under the direction of Christopher Kenney, really capture the nuances of their characters and then completely blow them out of the water—from Julia’s sanctimonious tirades and Mary Jo’s cocktail-infused testimonials to Charlene’s silly down-home stories and Susanne’s self-absorbed manipulations.
Their performances are silly and over the top, but never disassociate themselves from the original characters. Robinson’s Anthony gets some of the best jokes and Kevin Moore has completely mastered all of Cohen’s physical idiosyncrasies and mannerisms. It should also be noted Mitchell, the only cast member who hasn’t performed the show before, quickly mastered the fast pace of it.
Michael McClain’s set design, including some elements from Island City Stage’s recent production of “The Pride,” puts the audience front and center into the living room of the show’s Atlanta mansion and the action is further accentuated by effective and clever lighting from Preston Bircher. Kudos go to Empire Stage and David Gordon for continuing to upgrade the technical capabilities of the intimate black box space.
“Re-Designing Women” is very funny and, if the snorting and cackling full house audience is any indication, the production will continue to be sold out throughout its extended run.
“Re-Designing Women” runs Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 5 p.m. through Aug. 3 at Empire Stage, 1140 N. Flagler Dr. in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets are $30 at EmpireStage.com.