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An arresting revival

Camp and cliches make `Women Behind Bars' as hilarious now as it was in the '70s.

September 01, 2006|David C. Nichols | Special to The Times

Although more than 30 years have passed since "Women Behind Bars" first clawed its way into camp classic status, time has not deflated its dementia. Big hair and bigger shtick still rock Tom Eyen's travesty of '50s B movies, as the tickling revival by Rude Guerrilla Theater Company proves with shameless effusion.

Under director-designer Jay Michael Fraley's culpable eye, an ideally cast cellblock misses nary a tacky trick in this brazen assault on prison-chick flicks. After a projected trailer for the 1971 schlockfest "The Big Doll House," our feature presentation slinks into view before Fraley's gray-striped set.

Meet the stereotypes in lockup at the Greenwich Village Women's House of Detention, circa 1952. Puerto Rican spitfire Guadalupe (Shannon Lee Blas), Pam Grier forerunner JoJo (Layce Ashby) and ultra-butch lifer Gloria (Brenda Glim) are ready-made affronts to the politically correct. Southern belle shoplifter Blanche (Karen Harris) clings to reality by her dainty fingernails, which is more than can be said for psychotic arsonist Ada (Kristin Elliott). Nasal-voiced tart Cheri (Jami McCoy) and sweetly lethal Granny (Sally Norton) complete the toilet plunger-wielding slate.

Into their twisted ranks comes framed innocent Mary-Eleanor (the wonderful Jennifer Bridge), who resembles a Vargas drawing of Judy Garland's Dorothy. Her doe-eyed charms attract the massively corrupt, epically bewigged matron (Sharyn Case, having a field day), to the dismay of sultry turnkey Louise (Jessica Woodard).

Aided by actor David Beatty as various males, from idiot guard to denuded spouse, these festive floozies attack the vulgarity and bad-acting cliches with an ironic death grip.

Besides Fraley's set and sound, colleagues Heather Enriquez (costumes) and Lindsey Suits (lighting) achieve low-budget nirvana. Just try not to chortle at this rip-snorting guilty pleasure.


`Women Behind Bars'

Where: Empire Theater, 202 N. Broadway, Santa Ana

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Also, 8 p.m. Sept. 21

Ends: Sept. 23

Price: $18

Contact: (714) 547-4688

Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

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