Theater review: ‘Women Behind Bars’ at Celebration Theatre


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Post-Stonewall and pre-AIDS, Tom Eyen’s 1975 camp classic, “Women Behind Bars,” captured the wildly celebratory mood of the gay community, which had so recently broken free of its cage of shame and social opprobrium.

That festive atmosphere endures in the show’s present production at the Celebration. However, don’t expect taut dramaturgy in the fervid send-up of 1950s prison movies. Concocted in an era when audiences could get a contact high from the marijuana smoke drifting out of many small theaters, “Women” was and remains a bit of a mess, a self-indulgent and overlong enterprise glutted with camp tropes.


That’s the glory of it. And Kurt Koehler embraces excess in his over-the-top staging, which is so hilariously effusive you may not notice its underlying stringency.

Beloved drag queen Momma is a rollickingly evil Matron, her massive bosom preceding her like the prow of a Viking raiding vessel. The subtly suggestive costumes establish costume designer Michael Mullen as the Coco Chanel of prison garb, and the actors – some in drag, others not – are effectively steamy throughout.

Standing out amongst the terrific cast, Jessica Goldapple plays the petite and sweet new “meat” on the cell block, Dudley Beene drolly doubles for Blanche Dubois, and Tara Karsian shines as the dour lifer who rules the roost with a painfully concealed shiv. But all the performers, including Kimberly Lewis, Pip Lilly, Arianna Ortiz, Ted Monte, Samantha Kern, DawnMarie Ferrara and Tracey Collin (substituting for another performer with a half-hour to spare) are well worthy of mention – and well worthy of seeing. These “Bars” are slamming shut soon, so hustle if you want to get in on the fun.

-- F. Kathleen Foley

“Women Behind Bars,” Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m., Friday-Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday. Ends Sunday. $25. (323) 957-1884. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.