Kelsey is a Chicago based producer, actor, writer, critic, and mixologist. An alum of Black Box Acting’s ACADEMY Program, Kelsey curates “The Newness,” a monthly salon of new work. They also work closely with Trans Voices Cabaret Chicago as well as Chicago Theatre Access Auditions. Follow them on Insta! @playsandpours, @kelseylooks
Pictured: David Cerda and Chazie Bly. Photo by Rick Aguilar Studios.
By Kelsey McGrath
Hell in a Handbag Productions begins its 15th season with a bang. LADY X: THE MUSICAL is a campy noir musical. Coupled with a few cocktails, it is the perfect antidote to escape this dumpster fire world. With book and lyrics by the company’s artistic director, David Cerda, LADY X is a splashy meta-theatrical experience that leaves the audience in stitches. Think of every 30s and 40s archetype, add a few hilarious drag queens, campy murders, and a dash of melodrama, you have LADY X. Cerda weaves a multi-dimensional plot that twists and turns culminating in moments of singing, dancing and murder. What’s really stellar here is the show’s snappy pace and succinct storytelling. ach musical number has a purpose, which is tricky to accomplish in the genre.
The show is well produced. Housed in Mary’s Attic, the fourteen-person cast successfully creates the illusion of crowd and maintains a palpable energy throughout. The text lends itself to this fiery underbelly as Cerda’s words snap, crackle, and pop. He is a powerhouse in this production. Cerda gives his words to this show, but chooses to embody his villain Scarlet Fontanelli himself. Scarlet is a heartless mobster with all the accompanying 1940s schticks.
Christea Parent is the principle hostess and Lady X, Mary Dwight. Parent indulges in the melodrama of Mary’s plight. Her timing and theatrics are on point as our damsel in distress navigates her way through the story.
To lift up only these performers is a disservice to the team. Together, the cast creates a world that immerses the audience in a snappy, fast paced noir. Each character maintains their own flavor, their own archetype, and takes themselves, seriously despite to absurdity of the roles. This honesty in character makes the stylized acting believable. The audience was on board. Actors are in drag without that being used as a point of humor. It breaths 2017 life into age old tropes and styles.
While I didn’t walk away humming any musical numbers, the gift of this show is in its absurdity, paying honest homage to the camp and melodrama of the 30s and 40s. After all its over-the-topness, LADY X successfully transports the audience out of its world and into reality. It comments on the privilege of art making and escapism. This was the perfect landing zone following a rambunctious adventure. If we’re headed to Hell in a Handbag, I’ll bring the cocktails.
LADY X: The Musical runs through June 8th at Mary’s Attic in Andersonville. For more information visit handbagproductions.org.