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Cheesecake on the lanai is child's play. The unofficial parody Thank You for Being a Friend (written by Nick Brennan) isn’t your granny’s Golden Girls; this is a jaw-dropping degenerate spin on the beloved 1980s sitcom, less worshipful homage than irreverent sideshow. That the show’s four women are all portrayed by men barely registers as a surprise compared with the script’s indulgently filthy plot points and rampant vulgarity. At the Ringwald Theatre, this Joe Bailey–directed Who Wants Cake? production is fearless in seeking the lowest of lowbrow humor, turning in a hot mess of a play that wants nothing more than to have some raucous fun.

The names have been changed to protect the copyright, so here we find “Blanchet” (Richard Payton), “Dorthea” (Jamie Richards), “Roz” (Joe Plambeck), and “Sophie” (Jeff Weiner) dealing with the latest upheaval at the Miami-area Shady Oaks retirement community. After a superbly corny take on the opening credits, the show dives right into the main conflict: the ladies’ new neighbor, former member of the boy band 'N Sync and famous gay Lance Bass (Billy Dixon), throws all-night bacchanals that are loud enough to keep the fearsome foursome awake. When confronted, sassy Bass refuses to suppress the noise; instead, the two parties up the ante by making a wager regarding the conveniently scheduled Shady Oaks talent show. The rest of the story concerns preparing for the show, dealing with diva personalities, making and changing alliances, and a decent helping of shenanigans. Within the premise, there are hallmark moments and scenes that would be right at home in the TV show, but a crass discussion of genitals or a comically brandished piece of sex paraphernalia is rarely far behind. Beyond Dixon’s feisty and conniving Lance, actor Rich Wilson portrays the few other characters that pop up, primarily toying with expectations as Lance’s servile plaything, Cubby. Interspersed among the bawdy humor and Golden Girls in-jokes are other major touchstones of camp that are splendid on their own merits.

Also featured are a number of song and dance numbers, mostly pop songs with crudely rewritten lyrics (by Luke Jones and Jeff Thomson). Under music directors Payton and Jeff Bobick and choreographer Molly Zaleski, the music often feels like an afterthought, made palatable by overwhelming salesmanship and screw-it ridiculousness. By necessity, this is an extremely visual production, with Vince Kelley’s extraordinary depth and breadth of costume design working overtime against set designer Dave Davies’s agreeably two-dimensional sitcom backdrop; however, the reliance on quick changes occasionally results in overextended blackouts that droop in an atmosphere of manic energy. Lighting design by Joe Bailey gives the tunes splash to go with their spectacle, and sound by Dyan Bailey strikes the perfect tone with interstitial music that adds flow to the scenes.

With a ninety-minute-plus running time, the play feels less like a string of episodes than like a single deliberately bad movie episode, especially as it pushes each of these familiar characters into her own wacky B-plot. As Dorthea, Richards channels the character’s physicality with success, slightly more so than her saltine-dry delivery, all the while giving a measured take on a story that rather cheaply capitalizes on her mannish traits. Roz is painted as a simpleton with a demented streak, and Plambeck’s best moments come in fleshing out the character’s overwrought back story and flipping the switch between “St. Pious”–raised innocent and ball-busting hellion. True to Sophie’s curiously hip streak, Weiner makes the character comfortable among Lance and his boys, enthusiastically playing sex club hostess and nursing a competitive bent that makes her a partial adversary to the others. Not surprisingly, the character who comes through this smutty lens most intact is Blanchet, and Payton’s turn as the salacious belle is superb, nailing her speech patterns and matter-of-fact pride in her repeatedly maligned reputation. The performance anchors what would have otherwise been a complete departure from the source material, reveling in its depravity and yet retaining some familiarity.

Although Thank You for Being a Friend won’t be a universal fit for Golden Girls fans, those who connect with gleeful evisceration as the highest form of flattery should not be disappointed. The production is well in keeping with its thoroughly dirty text, not to be evaluated as an art form, but merely played for shrieking, shocking laughs.


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