The Passion of the Crawford
nytheatre.com review by David Pumo
May 6, 2005
Few Hollywood icons have provided more fodder for drag queens and other satirists than that legendary egomaniac and madwoman, Joan Crawford. And few performers, it would seem, are more up for the task of re-chewing this cud than the self-described postmodern male actress, John Epperson, a.k.a. Lypsinka. It would seem to be a match made in camp heaven, a joining of forces that was predestined. The Passion of the Crawford is an evening of illusion that was almost inevitable, and as one would expect form Epperson, there are many moments of subtle brilliance. There are also, however, places where the piece is far too easy for a performer of Epperson’s caliber. Passion, which might have been a superior evening of nightclub performance, is almost not worthy of the uniquely original talent and energy of Epperson, or his alter-ego, Lypsinka.
After an opening act featuring a recreation of a magician who worked on one of Crawford’s films, Epperson lip-synchs/reenacts—in its entirety, it appears—one of Crawford’s final interviews, along with Steve Ciuffo playing the interviewer. It is the late sixties or early seventies, and Joan is reflecting upon her career, her marriage, her children, and various aspects of popular culture. Each time the interviewer mentions her daughter Christina—the author of the scathing biography Mommie Dearest—Epperson wipes his hands together as if brushing some dirt away. The interview includes commentary about Bette Davis, the studio system, and more than one remark about marijuana use by today’s young. There are interjected moments of flashback as well, such as the infamous Christmas interview with her adopted children in which, among other things, Crawford lays out the rules of the peculiar system she has created for her children to earn, keep, and often give away their gifts.
The interview, the longest section of the evening, is an interesting glimpse of the world through the eyes of an older woman who has lived a life completely out of touch with reality, and who is now descending even deeper into complete, isolated madness. It is funny in places, sad in others, and morbidly fascinating. It is also about twice as long as it should be, with many uninteresting sections that could easily have been cut to make the humor and satire more focused. Also, watching Epperson seated in a chair throughout, I found myself missing the frantic energy, clipping choreography, and organized chaos that characterizes much of Lypsinka’s best stage work.
Epperson/Lypsinka then recreates Crawford’s performances of two favorite works of literature, Desiderata, the classic declaration of the essentials of living a peaceful life, and a dramatic interpretation of the importance of caring for our children. Through the lens of the media’s twenty-something year dissection of Crawford’s life, the irony of these pieces is both witty and quite creepy. Her choices of material shed light on the complete blindness she has regarding her own psychosis. Like the interview, these moments from Crawford’s late career are obscure enough to seem original and interesting, despite the many severe beatings this dead horse has endured. But again the performance itself is a bit too easy and unchallenging for Epperson.
Later in the show there are more classic Lypsinka moments, such as a performance of a house mix of Crawford lines (and a handful of Dunaway-as-Crawford lines) ending in an unexpected film reenactment. The energy here is what I love most about Lypsinka. The Passion of the Crawford is certainly an entertaining evening. I just wonder why someone like Epperson, who has made a career turning the completely derivative art form of lip-synching into a vehicle for some of the most creative and original stage work, is settling here for material that is less than striking.