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There's little point to 'Passion'

John Epperson's impersonation of Joan Crawford falls short as tribute or campy romp.

October 14, 2005|Daryl H. Miller | Times Staff Writer

Bedecked in sculpted wig and butterfly-painted lips, John Epperson becomes an entrancing creation known as Lypsinka. Sharp as a tack and glamorous as can be, she is simply irresistible. Yet -- owing to the fact that much of her conversation is edited together from melodramatic films -- she is also emotionally flammable. Wanting to have it all yet finding the deck stacked against her, she is a woman perpetually on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

To give voice to this fiery lady, lip-syncing phenomenon Epperson has tended to borrow from a variety of actresses, including Bette Davis, Elizabeth Taylor and Joan Crawford. For his newest show, though, he sticks exclusively to Crawford.

This seems a logical progression, since Crawford -- who worked her way determinedly to the top of her profession, surviving many setbacks along the way -- was the ultimate real-life embodiment of what Lypsinka has become. Aside from this intellectual leap, however, there seems to be little point to "The Passion of the Crawford," now playing at the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center's Renberg Theatre after performances in New York. It's too caricatured to be a tribute, yet too solemn to serve as frivolous entertainment.

Lypsinka's arrival is preceded by a film-clip montage in which Crawford, at her most extreme, wields an ax, aims a gun and hauls off and slaps her costars. A spotlight then reveals Lypsinka-as-Crawford at the side of the auditorium. Her lips quiver at the sound of the audience's applause, and, once onstage, she chokes out, "I never knew there was so much love."

Much of what follows is from an interview conducted live on stage at New York's Town Hall in 1973 by entertainment publicist and Crawford friend John Springer (Steve Cuiffo lip-syncs the part) and later released to the public as a recording.

At times, Epperson appears almost to be channeling Crawford, but more often than not, he and director Kevin Malony seem merely to mine her for laughs -- as when she glares daggers at the interviewer, or shifts away in disgust, because his vivaciousness threatens to upstage her.

Meanderings into a Christmas interview involving Crawford and her adopted children Christina and Christopher are played in the nightmarish tones of "Mommie Dearest." That's good for a few chuckles, but Crawford's reading of a cheesy inspirational poem is too awful to qualify even as camp.

Time spent with Lypsinka is always diverting, but at the moment, she's more self-indulgent than usual. Perhaps she needs one of those famous Crawford slaps to snap her out of it.

*

'The Passion of the Crawford'

Where: Renberg Theatre, L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center, 1125 N. McCadden Place, L.A.

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Fridays; 7 p.m. Sundays

Ends: Oct. 23

Price: $35

Contact: (323) 860-7300

Running time: 1 hour, 5 minutes

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