The Problem with Perfection: Is Drop Dead Perfect More than Campy Fun?

Drop Dead Perfect photo by Glenna Freedman

The word “legendary” should be used sparingly, but Everett Quinton has earned it. As the lover and muse to Ridiculous Theatre founder Charles Ludlum, Quinton made over 75 appearances with the Ridiculous troupe, scoring particularly in The Mystery of Irma Vep, which became a signature production for him over the years. He carries that lineage in every deeply clownish move he makes, so that when he is on stage everything is alive with his theatricality or his “theatricality.” His style is meta, but if you look into those romantically woeful eyes of his, you can also see just how deadly serious Quinton is about what he does. You have to be deadly serious, and dedicated, to reach the level of comic craft that he has attained.

Drop Dead Perfect is a ramshackle vehicle for Quinton that he played last year at the venerable Theatre at St. Clement’s, and now he is doing it again in that venue. The play is credited to a man named Erasmus Fenn, and the program says that this is Fenn’s “first work for the stage” and that he is a magician, but the 2014 New York Times review of Drop Dead Perfect suggests that Fenn might be a pseudonym, maybe for the director Joe Brancato, who keeps Quinton and his three supporting players as busy as possible to grab every last possible laugh they can.

Quinton plays Idris Seabright, a highly-strung, wealthy and controlling would-be painter who will go to any lengths to make things perfect, or perfectly still. Idris’s daughter Vivien (Jason Edward Cook, also in female drag like Quinton) has been home-schooled and walks with a leg brace that she may or may not need. The family lawyer Phineas Fenn (Timothy C. Goodwin) gets Idris the pills she needs to stay calm and presses his suit with Vivien while the explosive Cuban sexpot Ricardo (Jason Cruz) tries to seduce everyone in sight. At one delirious point, Ricardo puts on the Yma Sumac record Mambo! and Idris seemingly becomes possessed by this freakish singer with her five-octave range and lip-synchs along with Sumac while she and Ricardo cut a rug.

Drop Dead Perfect is something that might please a bunch of drunken gay guys in their sixties and seventies in Key West if they are easy laughers. This is very standard old camp material with all the obvious reference points: What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Psycho, I Love Lucy. At the matinee I saw, the audience was mainly silent, even at some of the funniest slapstick bits, but the performers plowed ahead anyway, heroically. Cruz is the most impressive of the other players, whole-heartedly playing a tasteless comic stereotype as if he has honed each of his moments down to their silliest possible physical conclusions (his shy little girl movements when he is trying to seduce the lawyer are particularly funny). Quinton is as commanding as ever, but he needs a higher-brow vessel to allow his best lowbrow instincts to flourish.

Drop Dead Perfect
Theatre at St. Clement’s
423 W. 46th Street

 

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