Review: The Drag Seed Is a Campy, Delightful World Premiere From Hell in a Handbag

Kristopher Bottrall and Ed Jones in Hell in a Handbag Productions’ world premiere parody The Drag Seed. Photo by Rick Aguilar Studios. "I've seen better acting in a Hallmark Original Christmas movie," one character says to another—and in the world of Hell in a Handbag's wickedly funny new play The Drag Seed, it's the most vicious insult imaginable. Based on the 1956 horror film The Bad Seed, David Cerda's "unauthorized parody" is self described as "inspired by our changing times." Indeed, Cerda and director Cheryl Snodgrass take more than a few liberties updating and warping the story of a mother (played by Ed Jones) coming to realize that her daughter (here portrayed as a non-binary aspiring drag queen by Kristopher Bottrall) is a murderer. The result is a pure camp delight. Eleven-year-old Carson (Bottrall) is a rising star at the Josephine Baker Rainbow Academy; they're working hard on their drag performance, hoping to win a coveted tiara at the school's upcoming pageant. Mother Connie (Jones) is supportive and doting, though she is having a hard time tracking the culture shift happening with Carson's generation—she mixes up pronouns, questions Carson's lust for fame, and worries about their hyper-sexual costumes and dance moves. It's all played to comic effect, and Snodgrass' seven-person cast makes the most of the tiny space in Mary's Attic in Andersonville. The DIY feel of Shane Cinai's set, with hand-painted walls and flimsy door frames, lends itself perfectly to the irreverent script—no one is safe from his pen here, as Cerda makes fun of everything from the modern education system to current gender politics in his parody. Bottrall is perfect as young Carson, shifting from gleeful pre-teen charm to devilish demon child at the drop of a hat. And Cerda plays aging drag queen Miss Charles, Carson's mentor, with hilarious ease. But it's Ed Jones, as mother Connie, who steals the show. It's a performance fully invested in the reality of this wacky world; he portrays Connie as a woman determined to stay optimistic in the face of tragedy, earnest and trusting of those around her, and Jones relishes the melodrama of Drag Seed's blood-soaked story. The play runs a bit long, with some of act 2 feeling like repeated material, but the cast is so game that it's easy to forgive a few slow moments. And when the fateful finale sneaks up, Bottrall and Jones stick the landing to humorous and menacing effect. Cerda and company have a nice little summer hit on their hands—the perfect way to escape the heat and forget about the even crazier world outside.
The Drag Seed plays at Mary's Attic, 5400 N Clark St, through August 24. Tickets are $27-$44, with group rates available.
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Matthew Nerber

Matthew Nerber is a performer and theater artist in Chicago, and a former literary contributor with the Generation, the University at Buffalo’s longest running alternative newspaper. When not seeing or making theater, Matthew can be found at the Music Box or expanding his classic rock vinyl collection. He is a 2019 Fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center.