Let 'Er Rip

Sun. December 6, 2020 12:00 AM
by Jerry Nunn

It wouldn't be Christmas without a Hell in a Handbag production lampooning a classic tale and even a pandemic in the year 2020 wasn't going to stop them from debuting new work this season. They even used the virus as a plot point to kickoff The Rip Nelson Holiday Quarantine Special. The star played by Ed Jones is stuck in the hospital after a gig on a Pride cruise. Magician Doug Henning, played by David Lipschutz, takes Nelson on a trip that he won't soon forget. Celebrity guests from the past join him for zany segments in a virtual show for over an hour with this world premiere from Handbag that streams now through January 9. 

Filmed in front of a green screen set in a warehouse, artistic director David Cerda and his theater troupe have created a safe way for people to perform and still have a socially distant production for everyone to enjoy. The days of performing at Mary's Attic with packed crowds are behind us now and Handbag has pivoted with this brand new project. 

On the plus side, audiences don't have to be in Chicago to see Rip Nelson's wild antics. The group can now market to people around the world and make new fans along the way. The names and jokes may confuse many millennials that were born in the '80s since this Special is set in the '70s. Elke Sommer references and Quentin Crisp jokes may be lost on a few, but Danne W. Taylor is certainly a doppleganger for the real Crisp complete with an English attitude. 

This Holiday Special must have been fun to cast these longstanding Handbag ensemble members in their roles as memorable celebrities. Some fare better than others, but viewers will get a kick out of watching this campy creation. Lampchop making Shari Lewis' life a living hell and a medley of pop songs adapted to holiday lyrics is where this production really shines just like an ornament on the tree.

Nicky Mendelsohn mugging for the camera as David Cassidy is spot on and Terry McCarthy's chemistry as Nurse Ursula with Nelson worked well during the introduction. Tyler Anthony Smith doesn't quite have down the Bernadette Peters baby doll voice, but comes close. Maybe a Broadway Barks joke or possibly a Sondheim parody song from Peters would have pepped things up. Lucille Ball's smoking addiction was cleverly exploited for humor, but her amyl nitrate use wasn't, which was a surprise. 

The Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In segment opened the door for a ton of jokes, but not using Caitlin Jackson as a Jo Anne Worley, when video makes complicated costume changes easy now, was a misstep. I bet the talented Sydney Genco could have played Ruth Buzzi with a little bit of work to add to this section of the show.  

The loyal following of Hell in a Handbag Productions has cultivated over the years is in part because of seeing them perform live and in person. Flubbing lines and seeing them try to crack each other up harkens back to Carol Burnett days and is perhaps sorely missed by audiences during this trying time in American history. In the meantime, we have this worthy endeavor that is now part of the Handbag legacy. It is definitely comforting to see the happy campers making art in a time where performers are stuck at home most of the time. 

We all need a little gay yuletide and The Rip Nelson Holiday Quaratine Special is just what the doctor ordered in terms of a distraction during tough times. While younger viewers may struggle a bit to follow some of the characters, older fans will have a ball, a Lucille Ball! 

Visit HandbagProductions.or or for $25 streaming tickets to the Quarantine Special today.