One of the main problems with Tom Eyen's campy 1974 comedy is that the films it most resembles, a string of B-movie exploitation flicks issued by American International Pictures in the early 1970s, are themselves parodies of lurid, low-budget '50s programmers such as Women's Prison. Eyen's script is less razor-sharp, more broad — love that pun? — sendup. While taking the material outrageously over the top is the only way to make it work, director Jay Michael Fraley holds close to the letter of the text, generating only sporadic laughter.
While some of Fraley's cast members crystallize their characters, sketched as takeoffs on familiar figures from the worlds of stage and screen, others move just part of the way there. Jennifer Bridge creates the right campy, ironic tone with her Mary-Eleanor, the Snow-White ingénue whose first appearance makes her an apt combination of Alice in Wonderland and Dorothy Gale. In the same spirit are Kristin Elliott's giggling, whacked-out Ada; Brenda Glim's butch lifer Gloria; Jami McCoy's Jerseyish, Marilyn-coiffed Cheri; and Shannon Lee Blas' sentimental, high-haired Puerto Rican, Guadalupe.
Ruling the ward through fear, The Matron should be a comically malicious sadist — a female equivalent of Ernest Borgnine in his best villain roles. Sharyn Case's portrayal is devoid of comedic juice, a loud cackle her only identifiable trait. The idea of rendering the Matron's crony and main squeeze, Louise (Jessica Woodard), as a junior of Case is inspired. So is the show's opening, a black-and-white version of the trailer for 1971's The Big Doll House, followed by a roster of the play's credits (including a directorial credit for the pseudonymous "Alan Smithee"). Tighter pacing would mask many of the script's flaws, and the use of harsher lighting and cheesy music and sound effects would go a long way in duplicating the world Eyen's material purports to ridicule.
Presented by Rude Guerrilla Theater Company at the Empire Theater, 202 N. Broadway, Santa Ana. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2:30 p.m. (Also Thu. 8 p.m. Sep. 21.) Aug. 25-Sep. 23. $18. (714) 547-4688. www.rudeguerrilla.org.