Review: Hell in a Handbag’s The Drag Seed Fails to Bloom

Hell in a Handbag’s New York-bound revival of its 2019 production The Drag Seed has lots to say about LGBTQ culture and the advances that have been made in the last 40 years. From literally fighting for our lives in the ‘80s and ‘90s, to achieving marriage equality, the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and the introduction of effective HIV prevention and treatments in the last decade, the progress has been astounding.

The Drag Seed, directed by Cheryl Snodgrass, delivers its message in an improbable joint homage to the 1950s camp classic The Bad Seed and RuPaul’s Drag Race. Unfortunately, along the way, the show forgets to be funny.

It is disheartening to see Hell in a Handbag falter like this, given the many past successes of its 20-year history in Chicago. But, with the exception of only one or two jokes, The Drag Seed gained only occasional mild chuckles of recognition at its show on Thursday night.

Ed Jones. Photo by Rick Aguilar Studios.

This is despite an impeccable camp performance by Ed Jones as Connie Lingus (yes, they went there). Ed is joined in the show by HIAH founder and playwright David Cerda, werking a caftan and statement jewelry like nobody’s business in the role of glamorous landlady and drag mother, and ensemble member Danne W. Taylor, who effectively channels Mildred Natwick as a frumpy faded hippie schoolmistress.

Elizabeth Lesinski also deserves recognition for her almost-harrowing portrayal of a bereaved mother drunkenly looking for answers about the death of her child—a depiction that more than echoes Eileen Heckart’s indelible performance in the same role in the movie. But, again, not funny.

Patrick O’Keefe, Danne W. Taylor and Tyler Anthony Smith. Photo by Rick Aguilar Studios.

I hope that HIAH can address the lack of laughs in this over-long show before it makes the trip to New York for a run at the LaMaMa Experimental Theatre Club. Until then, I have to paraphrase Homer Simpson by saying “I like my beer cold, my TV loud and my drag performances HILARIOUS.” Sadly, The Drag Seed is not that show. (In the 2019 review, the 3CR reviewer had a different opinion, for some reason.)

The Drag Seed runs at the Chopin Theater (1543 W. Division) until March 20. Tickets range from $27 to $50 and can be purchased at handbagproductions.org and  thedragseed.eventbrite.com. The show is two hours long, with one intermission. For more information on this and other productions, see theatreinchicago.com.

Doug Mose is happy to be seeing live Chicago theater and scheming to get a penmanship award that is rightfully his!

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Doug Mose

Doug Mose grew up on a farm in western Illinois, and moved to the big city to go to grad school. He lives with his husband Jim in Printers Row. When he’s not writing for Third Coast Review, Doug works as a business writer.

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