Theater

The exuberant camp of ‘Glen or Glenda’ is partly an audience creation

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Who needs a plot? ‘Glen or Glenda’ is about laughs.
Photo: Richard Brusky
Jacob Coakley

Four stars

Glen or Glenda February 20-March 7, Friday & Saturday, 11 p.m., $20. Onyx Theatre, 702-732-7225.

The genius of shows like MST3K—or its predecessors, the late-night horror hosts on local TV stations of the ’70s—is their ability to reframe dreck for laughs. They peppered viewings with jokes and invited audiences to join them in laughing at the movies. John Tomasello’s Midnight Fomato Society takes this conceit one step further: He added “fomatoes.” Socks stuffed with cotton batting, fomatoes free the audience from having to think of clever jokes, or memorize a script of predetermined actions to join in the creation of camp. All they require is a great sense of timing and a decent arm to pelt the actors as they try to put on a show. The rewards are immense. Tomasello’s latest so-bad-it’s-good offering, Glen or Glenda, adapted from the film by Ed Wood, is a fantastically funny, cathartic experience.

There’s something purely entertaining about pelting the actors with harmless cotton balls, and it only becomes funnier as they swat them away using newspapers and other props, or as they try and keep a straight face while playing dead in a maelstrom of fake fruit. The creation of camp humor becomes something other than an ironic intellectual exercise. It becomes actual exercise.

But don’t worry if your pitching arm isn’t the best. There are other jokes, too. Stephen R. Sisson as the “Scientist” (a part originally played by Bela Lugosi) imbues his over-the-top German accent with more queeniness than it has seen since the death of Empress Augusta. Glenn Heath is delightfully wide-eyed and frenetic or filled with shame as Glen-Glenda (he also displays a mean backhand when returning volleys of fomatoes, so aim well). Anita Bean charmingly plays his clueless girlfriend, along with several other roles. Other parts are covered by a troupe of actors gamely changing costumes, flinging fomatoes back into the audience and filling out the show with as many outrageous characters and funny bits as possible—including a sex-change operation sequence with overlarge scissors and a drill. If it’s in questionable taste, it’s in here.

Don’t bother with plot. There really isn’t one. (There wasn’t one in the movie, either.) Go for the laughs. Pay extra to sit in the front row and gather more fomatoes as they come off the stage, or spring for larger bags of fomatoes to fling. The more you give, the more laughs you’ll get.

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