×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Passion of the Crawford

A time capsule has been uncorked at the Zipper Theater. When John Epperson as Lypsinka as Joan Crawford performs "The Passion of the Crawford," it might as well be spring 1975 at the Bouwerie Lane Theater. Even the audience is the same, albeit 30 years older.

With:
The Interviewer - Steve Cuiffo Joan Crawford - John Epperson

A time capsule has been uncorked at the Zipper Theater. When John Epperson as Lypsinka as Joan Crawford performs “The Passion of the Crawford,” it might as well be spring 1975 at the Bouwerie Lane Theater. Even the audience is the same, albeit 30 years older. But even on opening night, the tiny Zipper was not sold out. If nostalgia isn’t what it used to be, then camp surely has folded its tent and Epperson has become the Madame Tussaud of drag.

His “Passion,” not to be confused with Mel Gibson’s, begs a question not asked in nearly a decade: Why do female impersonators keep on mining the same Hollywood graveyard of Crawford, Davis, Garland, Minnelli? It’s as if J. Lo, Kim Cattrall and Kathleen Turner never happened.

Epperson’s task here is formidable, but then he demands much of an already shrinking audience. Unlike his shows “As I Lay Lip-Synching,” “I Could Go on Lip-Synching” and “Now It Can Be Lip-Synched,” there’s no singing, not even lip-synched singing, in “The Passion of the Crawford.”

The overwhelming minimalism of the project brings to mind the great works of Ozu, Beckett and Mondrian. Imagine a man in a dress mouthing the words spoken by Crawford in an interview given to John Springer in 1973. (The late great publicist conducted several such in-concert talks with movie divas in the early 1970s, meaning “The Passion of the Davis” and “The Passion of the Turner” may well be in the works.)

Credited as merely the Interviewer, Steve Cuiffo mouths Springer’s voice with considerable understatement, leaving the histrionics to his onstage partner, who rolls her eyeballs with real distinction.

Interspersed throughout their chat are flashbacks, signaled by red lights and Bernard Herrmann’s discordant violin riffs from Alfred Hitchcock’s “Marnie.” Suddenly, Cuiffo as Springer and Epperson as Lypsinka as Joan Crawford are transported back to a 1949 Christmas radio chat featuring the actress’s two children, Christopher and Christina.

When Epperson first appears onstage at the Zipper, he looks not like Crawford but Arlene Dahl as channeled by Charles Busch. Ultimately, Epperson overcomes his own delicately pinched features and, as if tossing Lypsinka aside, wills himself to be Crawford. Head back, nostrils flaired, painted lips pulsating, Epperson screams, “Don’t fuck with me, fellas!,” a line he delivers with utter conviction and authenticity. So what if it’s Faye Dunaway doing Joan Crawford in “Mommie Dearest” and it’s all on tape, anyway?

Joan and Faye occasionally play tricks on Epperson, their voices coming at him a beat or two earlier than he anticipates so his lips have to play catch-up. Apparently, lip-synching someone’s speaking voice is a lot tougher than following the vocal line of a song.

In the end, Epperson’s obsession would make a much better evening in the theater than his “Passion.” Imagine the humble studio apartment as designed by John Lee Beatty. Surrounded by showbiz clutter, sitting center stage and watching hour after hour of TCM, is Epperson as Lypsinka as Joan Crawford as costumed by William Ivey Long. He never speaks. He just mouths.

The Passion of the Crawford

Zipper Theater, New York, 223 seats, $30 top

Production: A Tweed TheaterWorks and the Zipper presentation of a performance in one-act by John Epperson. Directed by Kevin Malony.

Creative: Sets and lighting, Nathan Elsener; costumes, Ramona Ponce; sound, Matt Kraus; soundtrack design, Epperson; video, Grady Hendrix; Dan Rucks. Opened, reviewed May 6, 2005. Running time: 1 HOUR, 20 MIN.

Cast: The Interviewer - Steve Cuiffo Joan Crawford - John Epperson

More Legit

  • Audra McDonald Frankie and Johnny

    Listen: How Audra McDonald Faced Her Fear in 'Frankie and Johnny'

    When producers offered Audra McDonald a role in “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” opposite Michael Shannon, she immediately said yes. Then she remembered the nude scene. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “Hell, yes, there was trepidation,” the Tony-winning actress said on the new episode of Stagecraft, Variety’s theater podcast. “I was [...]

  • A Strange Loop review

    Off Broadway Review: 'A Strange Loop'

    “No one cares about a writer who is struggling to write,” sings the anxiety-ridden lead character in Michael R. Jackson’s sometimes exhilarating, sometimes exasperating new musical, “A Strange Loop,” at Playwrights Horizons. The abundantly talented Jackson takes the otherwise tired trope of the young, poor and sensitive artist trying to discover his true self and [...]

  • Richard E Grant Everybody's Talking About

    Richard E. Grant to Play Former Drag Queen in 'Everybody's Talking About Jamie'

    Oscar-nominated actor Richard E. Grant will portray a former drag queen and mentor in “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie,” the movie adaptation of the British stage musical. “Catastrophe” co-creator and star Sharon Horgan and “Happy Valley” star Sarah Lancashire have also joined the film. Max Harwood will play the titular role of Jamie, a role inspired [...]

  • The Secret Life of Bees review

    Off Broadway Review: 'The Secret Life of Bees'

    There’s a sweet sense of sisterhood that’s simply divine in “The Secret Life of Bees,” the heartwarming new musical at the Atlantic Theater Company based on Sue Monk Kidd’s bestselling 2002 coming-of-age novel, set in South Carolina in 1964 amid Civil Rights struggles. (A 2008 film adaptation starred Dakota Fanning and Queen Latifah.) The feeling [...]

  • 10 Comics to Watch

    Variety Announces 10 Comics to Watch for 2019

    Variety has chosen its 10 Comics to Watch for 2019. The honorees will be profiled in the July 18 issue of Variety and at the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal at a cocktail party on Thursday, July 25, followed by a panel and showcase on Friday, July 26. The events are sponsored by Cohen & Gardner LLP. The [...]

  • Vanessa Hudgens So You Think You

    Vanessa Hudgens, Hailey Kilgore to Star in Reading of 'The Notebook' Musical

    Vanessa Hudgens and Tony-nominee Hailey Kilgore are joining an upcoming reading of Ingrid Michaelson’s stage adaptation of “The Notebook” by Nicholas Sparks. Tony nominee Michael Greif is set to direct the reading, which will open June 23 at Vassar College’s Martel Theater as part of their Powerhouse Theater season. Kilgore will star as the younger [...]

  • Moulin Rouge director Alex Timbers

    'Beetlejuice,' 'Moulin Rouge!' Director Alex Timbers on Creating Worlds on Broadway

    In the past year, Alex Timbers has directed the Tony-nominated “Beetlejuice” and the stage adaptation of “Moulin Rouge!” (which begins previews June 28 at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre). Here, he reflects on his most recent projects and the challenges of bringing two iconic movie musicals to Broadway within a year.  Both your musicals live in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content