“Drag diva extraordinaire Varla Jean Merman headlines TWEED’s latest Fractured Classick, The Mailman Always Comes Twice, but the real stars of the show are her enormous, pendulous breasts. Like two rubber bowling balls bouncing and bobbing beneath her gauzy negligee, the remarkably lifelike bosoms appear to have a life of their own, and together they garner more laughs than the rest of the cast combined – including Varla herself, an amazing feat.”
TWEED’s newest production delivers plenty of laughs
Drag diva extraordinaire Varla Jean Merman headlines TWEED’s latest Fractured Classick, The Mailman Always Comes Twice, but the real stars of the show are her enormous, pendulous breasts. Like two rubber bowling balls bouncing and bobbing beneath her gauzy negligee, the remarkably lifelike bosoms appear to have a life of their own, and together they garner more laughs than the rest of the cast combined – including Varla herself, an amazing feat.
Not that Varla sits down on the job (although she does spend plenty of time on her knees or flat on her back). One of the hardest working gals in the business, it seems there’s nothing Varla won’t do for a laugh; potty jokes, sex gags, pratfalls and pantomime, she literally throws herself into her comedy as if her very life depended on it. As she’s proven in various solo shows, as well as in previous outings with TWEED, Varla can wring a chuckle out of any situation, and she does it here without even breaking a sweat.
Previous TWEED productions have been scandalous reinterpretations of shows like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf and The Women that had a tendency to be shut down by “cease and desist” orders before anyone could even see them. In a departure from this ill-fated approach, Mailman features an original, innovative script by Stephen Pell that pays homage to The Postman Always Rings Twice without crossing any legal boundaries. Familiarity with the 1946 Lana Turner/John Garfield noir classic isn’t necessary, or even desirable, as the show takes more detours than a dishonest cab driver with the meter running. Chief among them – a musical number called “White Swallow” (sample lyric: “If only he’d come more frequently”) and a courtroom scene that packs twice the fun of Mama Mia into a fraction of the time.
The story follows a two-time loser named Nick (Bradford Scobie), who ambles into a greasy spoon called the Gravy Box one day and is promptly offered a job by Gus (Daniel Booth), the amiable Greek fellow who owns the place. Before long, Nick has his eye on his boss’s wife, Nora (Merman), who can barely disguise her own fiery lust for Nick. As the two enter into a sleazy affair, they scheme to remove the only obstacle standing in the way of their happiness – Nora’s unsuspecting husband.
What follows is a sidesplitting romp through every pulp fiction cliché in the book, and then some. Moody lighting, dramatic music, and exaggerated gestures abound as the tale twists and turns through double-crosses, investigations and cover-ups, along with several uproarious episodes that bear little, if any, relevance to the matters at hand. Throughout, video-screen projections meld seamlessly with the action onstage, furthering the story with black-and-white footage that perfectly mimics the melodramas being satirized.
As for the rest of the cast, each performer holds his own flawlessly against a very formidable leading lady. With his lip perpetually curled and one eyebrow permanently arched, Scobie is spot on as the snaky Nick. His over-the-top mannerisms and impeccably affected attributes reflect serious study of classic pulp dramas.
In an impressive double-duty assignment, fellow drag diva Sweetie – a rotund and riotous comedienne in her own right – appears breifly as a fading stripper, while her alter-ego, Booth, delivers a boisterous performance as the boozing, boorish Gus. Both turns are terrific, but with much more stage time, it’s Gus who leaves the biggest impression, farting and grunting as he does beneath a heavily exaggerated accent that would be right at home in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
And although they don’t appear until late in the game, Marc McCombs and Dueling Bankhead/Unitard member David Ilku easily steal their scenes as a pair of mullet-wearing lawyers with claws out and bitchiness to spare.
While Varla’s international popularity has resulted in sold-out shows for her in London, Los Angeles and San Francisco, it’s meant New Yorkers have had fewer opportunities to see her in the past couple of years. It’s nice to have her back where she belongs, especially in a show so worthy of her abundant, er, talents. Along with the entire cast, she’s truly terrific here. With only 18 performances scheduled in the show’s run, you’d better book your tickets now. You definitely don’t want to miss this chance to see Ms. Merman at her best; there’s no telling when she’ll be gracing New York stages again in the future.
Michael Rucker has written for HX, Empire, and Time Out New York.
(Appeared in Gay City News)