Written by Patrick Chavis
Certain playwrights (not unlike certain film directors) have styles that are so defined, so essential to their stories, it almost feels like you’re being hit over the head with them. They positively scream, “HERE I AM EVERYONE. THIS IS MY PLAY!” Charles Busch is one such playwright. Red Scare on Sunset is another one of those stylish shows containing cross-dressing, gay humor and satire. LOTS of satire, which is quite enjoyable, although some of the scenic transitions could use a tad more creativity. The Michael Brown directed Red Scare on Sunset packs in all of the weirdness and comedic timing you would expect from a Busch script about invading communists.
Red Scare is set in the 1950’s and centers on movie star Mary Dale (played by Jon Spark) and her ever-nagging suspicion that her husband might be cheating on her. Little does Mary Dale realize that her husband might not be cheating on just her but the entire country via a treacherous ‘”Method Acting Class.”
I think for the most part a person should be able to go into a theater show and enjoy the material without having much background on the subject matter. However, you should know before going to Red Scare that if you haven’t heard of the Cold War/Hollywood Blacklist or just don’t know much about either, many if not all of the jokes are going to soar right over your head. That’s not to say that this show is highly intellectual, it’s not. There’s actually a great deal of sophomoric humor in this play. One of my disagreements with Busch is his belief that watching men cross dress on stage is automatically funny whether it’s part of the story or not. It can be funny, but it seems more like something he just likes to throw in. That being said, the bread and butter of this particular comedy comes from the rabid and ridiculous paranoia that existed at the time. If you can’t identify with or even understand how people saw the world back then, the show will come off as flat and only relatively amusing. I think Busch wrote one of his cleverest plays here, poking fun at both the past and American belief systems. Plot wise, he really does keep you guessing.
The stage direction and use of the space is very creative and is only lacking in a few areas. There are some scenes where a projector screen is used to explain a setting, and you need to fill in the blanks instead of finding a more creative way to transform the set. The best transition is the way a red curtain is used to block off the set keeping focus on particular characters, especially at the beginning of the show.
Jon Spark truly transforms himself in this role. Though it’s obvious he is a man because of his size and build, his voice and mannerisms are a marvel to watch. The entire cast was great in my estimation, but the scene between Frank Taggert (Angel Correa) and Marta Towers (Juilia Boese) when they are on the pier… what can I say? The passion in that scene is so funny, it can’t possibly be left out.
The Costa Mesa Playhouse is looking for a new theater (any word on available spaces is appreciated). Sadly, this will be one of the last shows performed by the Costa Mesa Playhouse in this particular space. But when they put on performances like this you know it won’t be the company’s last.