Review "The Rip Nelson Halloween Spooktacular": A Tricky Treat

Hell in a Handbag Productions presents

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At Mary’s Attic, 5400 N. Clark
Written by David Cerda
Directed by Cheryl Snodgrass
Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30
Thru November 6th
Added October 31st at 7:30
Buy Tickets
Running Time:  Approximately sixty minutes with no intermission

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

Wooga – Wooga!   It’s 1976!  Television programming is all about variety.  Long before Dances with the Stars gave E-List celebrities a career resurgence, variety specials paraded has-beens with wannabees for laughs.  Hell in a Handbag Productions presents the world premiere of THE RIP NELSON HALLOWEEN SPOOKTACULARDavid Cerda has penned another drag-infested lampoon. This time it’s a flashback to the 1970’s.  Rip Nelson is a Paul Lynn-Rip Taylor-Charles Nelson Reilly parody.  Back when the world believed Liberace was straight, gays were forced to be closeted-catch-phrase-buffoons.  The charade made many a man hit the bottle.   Rip Nelson was no exception!  To host a Halloween special, Rip had to get ripped to do it… and not the way shirtless gays do these days.   For good or bad, THE RIP NELSON HALLOWEEN SPOOKTACULAR depicts 1970’s variety shows perfectly.   

Chicago’s parody legend, David Cerda spoofs the holiday special with celebrities ‘stopping by’ to visit Rip.  Alex Grelle (Shelly Duvall) is stand-out hilarious.  A big-eyed Grelle plays Shelly like the oddity outcast she was.  Patricia Austin (Phyllis Diller) is Ha-Ha zany with Diller’s signature deprecating wisecracks.  Red Genson sounds just like Bob Dylan.  He teams up with Missy Aguilar (Kate Smith) for a “God Bless America-Blowing in the Wind” duet.  It’s not funny.  It’s powerful!    Elizabeth Lesinski is the hard to understand ‘hoochie coochie’ Charo.  Adding to the humor of her storyline, celebrities treat her like a maid and call her Chair-o.  Brigitte Ditmars is a spooky double for Ann Miller. Ditmars is a smiling, tap dancing maniac.  In the center of the hoopla, Ed Jones (Rip Nelson) hosts with his standard drunken mess performance.  Just seeing Jones usually promotes a giggle-fest for me.  This time, not so much.  Is it that the parody of those lovable 70’s eccentrics isn’t really a parody but dead-on and sad?  Or do I just like Jones better in a dress? 

Laugh-In, Hee-Haw, Donny & Marie, there’s a reason that the variety show genre is R.I.P.  The homespun, hodge-podge didn’t always mesh together.   Remember the short-lived Brady Bunch Hour featuring synchronized swimming?   Similar to the original versions, THE RIP NELSON HALLOWEEN SPOOKTACULAR has hilarious spots but the wrap-around isn’t tightly polished.   The celebrities don’t all fit for the show.   And yes, that’s one of the big reasons variety specials went extinct.  I love David Cerda’s Joan Crawford but she’s been miscast this Halloween season.  THE RIP NELSON HALLOWEEN SPOOKTACULAR is tricky as a treat.  It’s funny for those who remember the 70’s.  It’s not funny for those who remember the 70’s.     

Being age appropriate for the show, here’s how my gaggle of guys describe it…

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Dick – funny in spots
Bill – bad, better, good
Bob – Drag-a-licious
Bill S. – campy and nostalgic
Joe – Shelly Duvall
Brad – Hoochi-coochie Halloween
James – refreshing in places




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