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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Kitty Bukkake (or how I laughed and learned at Hell in a Handbag's Miracle! by Dan Savage)



I didn't know what the word "bukkake" meant until I recently saw the Midwest Premiere of Dan Savage's (yes, that gay activist and Savage Love columnist) play, Miracle!, by Chicago's Hell in a Handbag Productions. So in addition to being an entertaining evening of camp comedy, the show is educational, kids - just like the way Annie Sullivan taught Helen Keller (although I highly doubt that "bukkake" was part of her education).

But before we get to that teaching moment of the play, let me briefly give you some background information about the subject of Savage's wicked parody - William Gibson's Tony Award-winning drama, The Miracle Worker, which was first produced on Broadway in 1959 with Anne Bancroft as Annie and Patty Duke as Helen. It tells the true story of Helen Keller, who - having been blind and deaf since infancy - is now a spoiled wild child. Enter Ms. Sullivan, who has the difficult job of teaching her to communicate.

Savage, of course, takes this dramatic premise and turns it into an outrageous dark comedy about Helen Stellar, a young deaf and blind drag queen whose life is changed by Annie Sullivan. "Painfully funny" is how I would describe Helen's initial attempts to "perform" Gloria Gaynor's disco hit, "I Will Survive", but in the capable hands of director Derek Van Barham and especially the talented Steve Love, I quickly became a cheerleader for the "girl" to break through her walls of silence. In the midst of all the raunchy and often politically incorrect humor, Savage makes us care about Helen, and Love's ultimately touching performance just might tug at your heartstrings by the end - it did mine.

However, there is no need to get out your tissues because Miracle! is mostly played for laughs by its deliciously delightful cast, including Ed Jones, Jamie Smith and Kristopher Bottrall (as drag queens Gloria Blaze, Sissy Jizzmoor and Bailey Legal, respectively), Laura Coleman (as a shy stage manager), and the always amusing David Cerda as Helen's overprotective drag queen father, Crystal Pain. I also enjoyed the performances of Caitlin Jackson, Rachel Hadlock and Sydney Genco as three lesbians who nearly steal the show in Act 2. But as with the original play, Miracle! is about the intense relationship between student and teacher, and Elizabeth Lesinski is simply wonderful as Annie. She and Steve Love make perfect sparring partners, and I found myself rooting for both their characters to succeed. Finally, I must mention costume designer Kate Setzer Kamphausen whose eye-catching outfits would make any drag queen proud.

This brings us back to that moment in the play when Annie is christened with the drag name "Kitty Bukkake" - and I learned something new. You can Google it (if you're as naive as I was), but instead I suggest that you go see Miracle!, which will teach you such interesting things while lip-syncing to Bette Midler's "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy". It's just that kind of show.

Miracle! runs through July 10 at Mary's Attic (5400 N. Clark). For tickets, go to www.handbagproductions.org.

Photo credit: Rick Aguilar Studios

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