This high-strung camp fest from playwrights Tim Wilkins and Kevin Remington opens 15 years ago at the famous Towers Circus. Ringmaster and circus owner Miranda Towers (drag artist Wilkins) discovers her hubby (Andrew Ableson) in flagrante delicto with a sultry high-wire dancer (Kimberly Lewis), flips out, and chops both up with an ax. Years pass, and Miranda, abruptly released from the loony bin, returns to retake the reins of her beloved circus. But shortly after she arrives, circus performers start dying off-or being killed-in creepy and suspicious ways, the suspicion falling on a certain supposedly reformed ax murderess drag queen.
On paper, Wilkins and Remington's comedy sounds like it should be an imaginative tour de force along the lines of, say, one of Charles Busch's over-the-top drag plays. What could be a more potentially outrageous spectacle than the site of an ax murderess drag queen running a circus full of neurotics and perverts? The outrageousness and the laughs ought to come nonstop.
Unfortunately, though, something doesn't quite click here. The majority of the blame must be attributed to Remington's dismayingly maladroit direction, which lacks any awareness of comic timing: Gag lines are trampled--or ignored entirely--while possibly hilarious shtick is enacted with a hesitancy and tentativeness that suggests performers who don't have faith in the material.
The cast ranges from competent to downright awkward. Ableson tackles his several characters with daffy gusto and versatility, as does Corinne Dekker in multiple standout roles, including the circus' ill-fated lesbian human cannonball and Miranda's daughter. However, as the circus ringmaster, Wilkins cuts a peculiarly uninspiring figure that lacks the larger-than-life "je ne 'drag' quois" we expect from such characters. Jackie Beat and Lypsinka need not lose sleep worrying about competition.
This stuff needs to be presented with gusto and shameless broadness to be successful. Here the staging is slipshod, with awkward blocking and clumsy line readings. The exception to the overall sloppiness occurs during the amusing scenes when characters are murdered by the fiendish killer: In a noticeable departure from the mood of the rest of the work, these sequences are staged with puppets, allowing for maximum cartoonish violence and gore. These moments are downright hilarious, and we can only wish that the rest of the show hit the same bizarre and unerring notes of whacked-out campiness.