A mad-cap comedy full of surprises
By Charlene Baldridge | GSD Reporter
A woman of a certain age interviews Phil Johnson and Ruff Yeager about the new comedy they’ve co-written, “She-Rantulas from Outer Space—in 3D!”
Longtime friends, Phil Johnson and Ruff Yeager are two of San Diego’s funniest men, gay or straight, on stage or off. Sitting with them in the Diversionary Theatre lobby is like defining two kittens in a burlap sack.
Johnson recently completed a run as Bottom in Intrepid Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Musical,” and Yeager just returned from acting in the summer productions at Utah Shakespeare Festival. Yeager directs “She-Rantulas,” and Johnson headlines the company as a ‘50s housewife whose pigtailed daughter, Suzie (Tony Houck), is full of surprises.
About three years ago the two began working on a script inspired by Maxwell Anderson’s “The Bad Seed” (the play became a 1956 film) in which they scrambled gender roles. Eventually the script morphed into Johnson and Yeager’s own play with similar themes, principally, “What are we afraid of?” The answer, now and in the ‘50s, is “The Other.”
When investigating the “bad acting” in films of the era, they ran across a movie poster that featured a huge, hairy tarantula. Give that spider a gender switch, mix with fear of the other, and it becomes “She-Rantulas from Outer Space—in 3D!” Johnson terms the work a mix of farce and satire – a new genre called “fartire.”
The production features some of San Diego’s finest comedians. In addition to Johnson as the All-American Mother, Tony Houck as her daughter, Suzie; Andy Collins as Harry/Harriet; Melinda Gilb as Flora, Gladys et al; and Fred Harlow as Fred/Frieda.
Once the punctuation of “She-Rantulas from Outer Space—in 3D!” had been nailed down, the writer asked what one needed to know before attending.
“Wear spatter-proof clothing!” exclaimed Johnson, adding immediately, “Unlike ‘The Long Goodbye, we don’t really splash blood, but people will be killed.”
Yeager says, “But don’t tell people that. We want it to be a surprise. There are lots of surprises.”
Johnson allows there are plenty of just plain surprises, but the visual ones are going to be funny and fantastic. “It’s so much of the era, he says, “fear of Communism, fear of talking about sex, fear of dealing with other people – thick with denial that eventually pops out in front of your face.”
Yeager adds a landlord and his wife with marital problems and an Avon lady who fears those who do not go to church. “It’s all comedy based in human problems.”
Johnson visited Yeager in Utah. They tweaked the script, eliminating only a page, which indicates it was already tight when they went into rehearsal, where they continue to make refinements.
Meanwhile, Johnson has female problems. “It’s so complicated, being a ‘50s woman,” he says. “This isn’t just drag makeup. I’m used to putting on some foundation and that’s it – Go! Collins and Harlow are in the same boat with me – who took my eyelashes?”
Johnson is enamored of his character’s apron, utilitarian tea towel on one side, “and then you turn it around, and it’s an entertaining apron with chiffon and sprinkles! In that world, you know, you have to be ready to change in a second.”
Yeager says the play has its own kind of formal and polite language, full of superlatives like, “’Oh, the thrilling, delicious refinement of your embroidery’s edge!’ when ‘Take a look at that drape’ would do.”
No matter how you say it, spell it or punctuate it, “She-Rantulas” is bound to amuse. Can’t wait for Jennifer Brawn-Gittings’ costumes and Peter Herman’s wigs and makeup design.
“She-Rantulas From Outer Space—in 3D!” plays October 24 (official opening, November 2) through November 17 at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Bvld., diversionary.org or 619-220-0097.