Deadly Stages

Marc Castle. (Photo credit: Stephen Webster)

Tom Galantich, David Leeper, Rob Hancock, Dani Marcus, Ellen Reilly and Marc Castle. (Photo credit: Stephen Webster)

By: Darryl Reilly

“Barbara, please!”, an immortal Mommie Dearest quote brings down the house when delivered as a throwaway line during co-playwrights Marc Castle and Mark Finley’s uproarious vintage show business spoof, Deadly Stages; plentiful All About Eve references fused with film noir tropes inspire 90 minutes of merriment. Mr. Castle and Mr. Finley fondly and comprehensively distill the themes, elements and plot points of classic movies for their wild scenario which is fueled by deliciously well-crafted hardboiled dialogue, for an exhilarating camp fest. Bygone Transatlantic accents and Cowardesque clipped cadences marvelously recall the world of yesteryear legitimate theater; most of the dynamic cast play multiple stock roles.

It is 1955, and we are in the Broadway theater dressing room of the acclaimed and aging histrionic diva Veronica Traymore; her latest stage vehicle Young and Deadly, has flopped and is closing that night after only 37 performances. The humbling role of a German mother reuniting with her estranged adult daughter in an and upcoming playwright’s new opus, Sins of the Flesh, is to be Veronica’s next show before her intended retirement. Rehearsals with Veronica’s movie star co-star are rocky, there is tension between Veronica and her loafer soon to be ex-husband and Sins of the Flesh tries out in New Haven; murders are committed along the way.

Marc Castle. (Photo credit: Stephen Webster)

Clad in that era’s leading lady-style fashions, wearing a fiery red wig and evoking Tallulah Bankhead’s grandeur, co-author Castle gloriously portrays Veronica Traymore. Whether grandly croaking out retorts, stumbling about after taking a sedative or overreacting when in jeopardy, Castle vocally, physically and visually achieves a supreme comic performance. Allure Wigs founder Tamika Scriven’s eye-catching hair design is integral to the presentation’s wacky sophistication.

Dani Marcus. (Photo credit: Stephen Webster)

Eve Harrington has died in Hollywood and her assistant Phoebe (she goes only by her first name, like Cantinflas) has returned to New York. She gets a job as Veronica’s assistant and later, on short notice substitutes for Veronica’s missing co-star in Sins of the Flesh; she knows all the play’s lines. The animated and wide-eyed Dani Marcus plays Phoebe with riotous deadpan cunning. Ms. Marcus also sparkles as Connie Edison, a Dorothy Kilgallen-type barracuda Broadway columnist. Playing Veronica’s salty Irish dresser Dooney, high-class literary agent Barbara Landis and gauche Hollywood movie star Rita Vernon, is the limber, facially shifting and vocally distinctive Ellen Reilly who exquisitely creates these three antic characterizations.

Rob Hancock and Ellen Reilly. (Photo credit: Stephen Webster)

Such is the amazing versatility of the tall and charismatic Rob Hancock that it appears that Veronica’s caddish English husband Graham Sinclair and her hyper leather-jacketed Beatnik-type co-star Wade Elliott are played by different actors; Mr. Hancock magnificently appears in these diverse dual roles. Conniving producer Marvin Maxwell, gruff NYPD Detective Joe Colletti and elderly ruminative supporting player Frederic “Fritiz” Farley, are vigorously enacted via Tom Galantich’s character acting par excellence which stirs memories of C. Aubrey Smith and James Gleason. The sunny David Leeper conveys requisite passionate charm as emerging playwright Anthony Arlo, and every day realism in his subsidiary appearances.

A murder victim’s corpse depicted as a creepy life-sized stuffed doll falling from the ceiling and thudding on the ground, is one of numerous effective sight gags conceived by director and co-author Mark Finley. Mr. Finley’s meticulous and brisk physical staging lands every joke, conjures suspense and sustains a realistic dimension. Most hysterical are the physical comedy sequences involving quick changes for actors switching to a different onstage role, and them periodically performing with themselves offstage as two different characters. Various locations including the dressing room, a Turtle Bay townhouse’s living room and theaters’ backstage, are all artfully connoted by scenic designer Court Watson’s arresting red curtains and precise furnishings, allowing for swift scene transitions. Mr. Watson’s sensational costume design replicates the looks of the archetypal screen figures as we remember them. Lighting Designer Zach Pizza is confidently in overdrive veering from muted hues which capture the sheen of the past, to atmospheric dimness and gradual blackouts for cinematic effect. Composer Morry Campbell’s joyous original music blends familiar movie melodies with bouncy fresh compositions in his lively incidental score.

Rob Hancock, Marc Castle and Ellen Reilly. (Photo credit: Stephen Webster)

On either side of the playing area are two television monitors which display video designer and director David Leeper’s accomplished cheeky retro clips. There are TV news reports, radio programs, a sendup of Ed Sullivan with an affectionate parody of Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop, and a wicked take off of the celebrity panelist game show, What’s My Line?, here envisioned as Pass The Hat. These knowing flourishes distinguish Deadly Stages as an ingenious cavalcade of nostalgia where the possibility of Vera Charles snatching a role from Veronica Traymore incites a burst of audience laughter.

Deadly Stages (through March 16, 2024)
Emerging Artists Theatre in association with No Anita No Productions
Theatre 5 at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission


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