Desperate Dolls Review - Motel, Money, Murder, Madness

Strawdog Theatre’s Desperate Dolls might best be summed up by Jim Morrison’s L.A. Woman (“motel, money, murder, madness”).  Written by Darren Callahan and directed by Michael Driscoll, Desperate Dolls offers serious helpings of noire mixed up with buckets of blood and a side of supernatural horror thrown in for good measure.  At the center of it all are three actresses (known by the nicknames Matchbox, The Vil, and Pretty Sexy) so desperate to make it in Hollywood that they willingly audition in motel rooms and desperately vie for the attention of low life movie producer Sunny Jack (played convincingly by Joe Mack).  Under Jack’s direction the three star in progressively darker exploitation films that showcase the young ladies engaging in escalating acts of violence.  Somewhere in the shadows of all this is a very menacing, murderous force ready to devour the girls whole.

Joe Mack and Hillary Marren

This is an ambitious effort that truly deserves an A+ for effort.  At the very least the talented actresses (Alex Fisher, Hillary Marren, and Kelsey Shipley) deserve a special award for delivering most of their lines in their undies.  It could not have been easy allowing one self to be that vulnerable on stage.  I do wish, however, they were given more to do than make gooey eyes and scream in terror.  Because these characters were not fully fleshed out, the onstage violence (of which there is much of) felt more exploitative than a homage to past exploitation films.

Kelsey Rhiann Shipley

Visually there are some scenes of wonder, but taken as a whole too much of the play feels disjointed.  It is altogether too stylized to be truly terrifying or suspenseful and too self-aware to be taken seriously.  There is some nifty non-linear story telling going on and the plot pieces (just like one of the starlets) can be coherently stitched back together.  But in the end there are just not enough choice bits to make it a worthwhile endeavor.

Alexander Fisher and Jim Poole

Desperate Dolls is playing at the Strawdog Theatre Company (3829 N. Broadway) through December, 23 in their more intimate Hugen Hall.  Tickets are $10 - $15.  To purchase tickets go here.  For more theater reviews go to theaterinchicago


Photos by:  Tom McGrath

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