The first half of Nancy Hasty’s “Bobbi Boland” crackles with the same exuberant suspense that distinguished her thriller from last season, “The Director,” about a power-mad stage genius. The subject here is a power-mad ex-beauty queen determined to hang on to her rhinestone crown at all costs. When she goes into overdrive to decimate her opponents — roughly everyone within a two-block radius of her lovely suburban home — so does the play. If only the former Miss Florida could rid herself of the soggy comeuppance that ultimately befalls her.
The materialistic bitch has been something of a film favorite. As recently as “American Beauty,” Annette Bening worried that an overly ardent Kevin Spacey would spill his red wine on the new sofa. In “Ordinary People,” Mary Tyler Moore preferred her house to her husband, as did Joan Crawford in “Harriet Craig” (1952), a remake of the Rosalind Russell starrer “Craig’s Wife” (1936), which had been adapted from George Kelly’s 1925 Broadway play of the same name.
The theater hasn’t seen the likes of Bobbi Boland for some time, and it is to Hasty’s credit that she is able to revive the bitch-goddess archetype with such purposeful zest, both on the page and the stage: The playwright also plays the title role.
Director Evan Bergman gears the performances to such an extraordinarily high pitch that the production achieves a hyper-reality that suggests David Lynch as revisited by John Waters. Everyone onstage gives the impression of performing in drag, including the three male actors as well as the young and exceedingly short actress Holiday Segal, who plays the adolescent Susan Johnson, the Bolands’ neighbor who suffers nobly through Bobbi’s endless rounds of charm classes.
Bobbi’s perfectly ordered world is epitomized by the monochromatic living room designed by John Farrell. Into this pristine universe comes a much younger woman, Kim (Tanya Clarke), the new wife of George McGowan (David Little), who is about to offer Bobbi’s husband, Roger (Gregg Henry), a very big promotion.
Bobbi’s aversion to Kim is instant and instinctive. It’s cemented when Kim nonchalantly tells her hostess to lay off the charm-school tactics that she says are turning little Susan into a “robot.” All-out war is declared, with Bobbi the first at her battle station.
Unfortunately, Hasty concludes the play by reducing her heroine to a pitiful receptacle for everyone’s moralistic beratement, even as other more intriguing elements are dropped. It’s disheartening to hear Henry’s Mr. Boland complain that it’s all Bobbi’s fault that they never had kids. The arch Byron Loyd, who plays Bobbi’s gay-doormat neighbor, is shuttled back across the street after suggesting promising triangles with the Bolands in act one.
No wonder bitch goddesses in the movies usually turned to drink. The nice thing about the theater is that the final reel isn’t locked in the can. Hasty should give “Bobbi Boland” a new sendoff worthy of her monster sacre.