Opening August 20, 2020
Directed by: Thom Fitzgerald
Writing credits: Brad Hennig
Principal actors: Jacki Weaver, Lucy Liu, Adrian Grenier, Mya Taylor, Allister MacDonald, Oscar Moreno
Stage Mother is so-o San Francisco you can feel fog on your face and hear raucous laughter from inside Pandora’s Box. Why be shy? Go on in. And get ready for the funkiest razzle-dazzle ever.
In Brad Hennig’s screenplay, Red Vine, Texas collides with San Francisco, California when the primly improper Southern Baptist choirmaster (Jacki Weaver) and good ol’ boy hubby (Hugh Thompson) learn of death of their only son (Eldon Thiele). Supporting sis, Bevette (Lenore Zann) drives Maybelline to the airport. The atypical funeral catches Maybelline unawares, as does Rickey’s partner Nathan’s (Adrian Grenier) offensiveness. Running into the across-the-hall neighbor Selena (Lucy Liu) and baby turns into a blessing in disguise. Selena blindsides Nathan, Maybelline learns of legalities involved, and then, visits Ricky’s (“flatling”) drag burlesque bar. Initially Nathan chaffs at her ideas; Dusty Muffin (Jackie Beat) leaves in a huff, but Cherry, Joan and Tequila (Mya Taylor [Tangerine, 2015], Allister MacDonald, Oscar Moreno respectively) need the work. When Maybelline’s plan, “different songs, same divas and some of the same wigs,” is rebuffed her retort, “I’m a scheming bitch,” gets everyone’s attention. Subsequently, Maybelline flounces into a local Luxury Hotel, meets August (Anthony Skordi), and doors start swinging open. As confidences are shared and hearts open, understanding comes home to triumphantly roost culminating in a rousing rendition of “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”
Known to be a politically and artistically bolder gay film director, Thom Fitzgerald (The Hanging Garden 1997, Beefcake 1998, Cloudburst 2011) edges into weightier issues in Hennig’s sometimes-formulaic screenplay. What may seem cliché is, in fact, spotlighting ever-present prejudices against unorthodox behaviors pervasive in societies, whatever people’s sexual identity, and familial situation. Fitzgerald deftly sets a brisk pace the talented cast ensures with aplomb. The trilling trio Taylor, MacDonald, and Moreno match Weaver’s grit, Grenier’s animus, and Liu’s equipoise. Darcy McDaid’s art direction, Michael Pierson’s production design, and James A. Worthen’s costume design create a mise en scène worthy of the “City by the Bay,” that is reinforced by Thomas M. Harting’s cinematographic cadence and color choices. Shot in Halifax, Nova Scotia editing wizard Yaniv Dabach’s San Fran B-roll inserts keep us clueless, and his compact, illuminating sequences are striking.
In the opening sequence a lingered shot of “No Parking, Violators will be baptized” in a small-town parking lot sets the mood early. Unapologetically sentimental, sharp-edged, and a tad corny, Stage Mother offers audiences a nostalgically fun-loving good time. Hopefully, for authenticity the German dubbing company reaches out to Hamburg’s own drag burlesque, Pulverfass Cabaret. 93 minutes (.)