Low Camp

In a theater scene littered with satirical treatments of everything from Shakespeare to Russ Meyer films, there's a new kidder in town. The Theatre Group's The Kitten With a Whip Club Presents 20,000 Leagues Beneath the Valley of the Dolls is yet another outrageous showbiz parody. But though it's all in campy fun--more camp than fun, really--the self-indulgent original script by Maggie Ebert, Shana Kelly, Jeff Roark and Andrew Shoffner needs one thing: work. All the energy in the world can't make this trifle worth going to see.

The show opens with star of stage and screen Andrew Golightly singing with his head in a trash can. Dressed in stiletto-heeled thigh-high boots and a faux-leopard coat, the obviously drunk fashion plate rises from the gutter to tell us about his life. The cross-dressing Golightly (no buddy to Truman Capote's Holly) starts out as a talented youngster "full of dreams and so, so, so innocent." We can already see where he ends up.

Auditioning for the famous aging star Mitzi LeCoque, Andrew is a hit with the back-up singers and stage crew--but jealous Mitzi nips Andrew's career in the bud, blackballing him all over the country. So he leaves the Lower 48 and heads for Alaska, where he can't strip fast enough to please the local yokels. Booed off the stage, he dons a platinum wig, takes on a new manager and makes some commercials. Suddenly, he's a she and the sky's the limit.

But, oh, how exhausting all those rehearsals are--dancing lessons, singing lessons, acting lessons to boot. And Andrew has more than drugs going to his head: Fame transforms him into another Mitzi LeCoque--all me, no you. He stars in a musical about Jim Jones and the mass suicide at Jonestown--a dead-on sendup of exploitative modern musicals that's one of the funniest bits of the evening. Then he wins the Golden Globe Award and immediately starts slipping. He needs a cause and shows up at a vegetarian "Meat Is Murder" rally in a fur coat. Everyone gasps.

From there, it's straight downhill for Andrew. His manager betrays him, his old friends turn on her, and he's reduced to fisticuffs in the ladies' room with Mitzi. In the end, another manager offers him a job doing in-flight shows on a luxury airline in exchange for free drinks. "You can't buy publicity like that," he tells her.

As Andrew, local veteran Andrew Shoffner does his best to give Capote's Golightly a run for her money. A whirlwind performer, Shoffner has a special knack for camp and a rare ability to project both sleazy world-weariness and a sweet vulnerability. He's not the only one in the cast who's wound up like a top; especially captivating are Shana Kelly as a Hollywood gossip columnist and Maggie Ebert as Andrew's much-maligned, chain-smoking assistant.

There are a few nice--amateurish, but nice--touches here, like the use of slides to show locations and the ongoing parody of movie dialogue. The show's unabashed flights of fancy do produce a few hearty laughs. But there are too many dead spots, too much recycling of old trashy routines and too much scattered action. This Kitten needs to whip itself into shape.


20,000 Leagues Beneath the Valley of the Dolls, through April 26 at the Theatre on Broadway, 13 South Broadway, 860-9360.

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