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Thursday, June 5, 2014

If you like Orange Is the New Black, you'll love the hilarious Caged Dames

"Women in prison" has always been a popular genre in film and television. From such movies as Caged (1950), Caged Heat (1974) and Chained Heat (1983) to the 1979-86 Australian soap, Prisoner: Cell Block H, the 1999-06 British series, Bad Girls, and the current Netflix hit, Orange Is the New Black, there has - and obviously still is - a fascination with watching female prisoners fight each other as well as the sadistic prison officers who makes their lives a living hell. But now we can enjoy all this marvelous melodrama with some fun musical numbers in Caged Dames, a hilarious "women in prison" parody from Chicago's Hell in a Handbag Productions. And this show ranks right up there with POSEIDON! An Upside Down Musical and The Birds as one of Handbag's best productions ever.

Caged Dames tells a familiar tale - an innocent young woman named Mary ends up in the Calumet City Women's Penitentiary, where she and her fellow inmates are at the mercy of the evil prison matron, Elsie Emerson. But then they all get to break into song - and the occasional dance - with David Cerda's entertaining score, which features such numbers as "Christmas in Prison (Has a Way of Bringing Me Down)" and "Riot in the Big House". The über-talented Mr. Cerda, who is Handbag's co-founder and Artistic Director, wrote the entire show, including a juicy role for himself as the sympathetic prison warden. And having seen many of his scene-stealing performances over the years, I can tell you that he is once again causing fits of laughter among Chicago audiences.

But Cerda is not the only one responsible for making me giggle so much during the show. Director AJ Wright has gathered together a terrific cast of actors, including Elizabeth Morgan as Mary, the always delightful Ed Jones as Elsie, Christea Parent as Elsie's devoted sidekick Schnitzy (and who seems to be channeling Saturday Night Live's Laraine Newman, which is meant as a compliment), and Elizabeth Lesinski, Sydney Genco, Steve Love, Michael S. Miller, Robert Williams and Cheryl Snodgrass as the other prisoners. I also must mention Mario Mazzetti, who takes his small supporting roles as "Typist/Guard" and makes a memorable impression with them.

So - as you can tell - I loved Caged Dames. And it's so nice to see Handbag do a really big show in an actual theater again (with a first-rate set by designer Zachary Gipson). These "ladies" need a large performance space for their big hair and belting voices in order to provide us with one of the funniest stage productions I've seen this year.

Caged Dames runs through July 13 at Theater Wit (1229 W. Belmont). For tickets, call 773-975-8150, go to or visit the Theater Wit box office in person. For further information on Hell in a Handbag Productions, go to

Photos by Rick Aguilar Studios.

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