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Monday, April 12, 2010

Scalpel! is a Camped-Out, Crowd-Pleasing Hit at Brava

Posted By on Mon, Apr 12, 2010 at 2:03 PM

click to enlarge scalpel_small.jpg
Emily McGowan, Cindy Goldfield, & Arturo Galster
​If you're looking for a way to honor the legacy of Designing Women star Dixie Carter (she passed away in Houston on April 10), you could do worse than spend an evening with the ladies currently on stage at Brava Theater Center.

Brava's world premiere of the musical Scalpel!, which closes its run on April 17, appears to have pilfered its actors' outfits entirely from the Designing Women costume closet. This is not necessarily a bad thing: for a show that satirizes the excesses of the fashion world, it makes sense to dress everyone as if they belong on mid-'80s television.

Written and directed by D'Arcy Drollinger (whose other credits include a comedy called Shit and Champagne), Scalpel! is basically The Manchurian Candidate set among the wealthy women of New York's Upper East Side. The story, such as it is, revolves around an aging socialite named Jacquelyn (Cindy Goldfield) who finds herself at the center of a nefarious plot to turn Bergdorf shoppers into brainwashed assassins.

Subtlety is not the intention here. It's the sort of show where someone gets strangled with a tampon string, and where an entire song is devoted to a lethal injection of Botox. Drollinger stages the proceedings with a lot of gusto--including a few ingenious fight sequences staged with the help of Bunraku puppeteering--and the audience understandably roars with approval.

The show needs a little work before it's ready for the next level: the dialogue includes more bad puns than seem totally necessary, and some of Drollinger's satirical jabs feel dated. (Isn't it about time we retire the joke where a woman can't register any facial expressions because she's on Botox?) However, on its own very campy terms, Scalpel! is a riot--a deliriously wacky mock-thriller that, in the words of one character, "puts the 'sass' in 'assassination.'"

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Chris Jensen

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