Meow! Hell in a Handbag turns up the claw-flying camp in a Tennessee Williams classic

Brick (Eric Lindahl) can’t face his wife, Maggie (Jeremy Myers) in Hell in a Handbag’s “Pussy on the House” by Ryan Landry. (Photo by Rick Aguilar Studios)

What happens when you take Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, turn the emotive-meter up to “camp,” replace the female roles with men in full-out drag and place the thing on a roof? You get Ryan Landry’s Pussy on the House — an irreverent yet respectfully draggy take on the classic southern melodrama about a greed-driven family vying for a piece of the plantation pie as the dying patriarch (or, matriarch in this case) bellows his (her) final fury. But no one’s prepared for what the sex-starved Maggie “the cat” has up her sleeve.

With this production, Hell in a Handbag has taken a side-step from its typical formula of producing original camp-tastic works by Handbag founder and artistic director David Cerda. While Handbag’s trademark camp, laughs and acting-as-subtle-as-the-makeup are still very much alive in Pussy, there are actually some very real emotions being played out on the small Athenaeum Theatre Studio Space stage, which I believe is a first for Handbag. And most of this credit goes to Jeremy Myers as Maggie. Dolled up like Elizabeth Taylor, Myers has every opportunity to make Maggie a screaming, clawing caricature. Instead he finds the truth in Maggie, without sacrificing the comedy. It’s a fine balance, and Myers handles it wonderfully. Under Matthew Gunnels’ deft direction, Myers’ scenes with Honey West as Big Mama (yes, Big Daddy is now a butch lesbian, which adds to the drama of the family estate’s fate since her relationship with her wife isn’t legal by “proper society standards”) are also very strong, and West also knows how to make a scene resonate with honesty within a camp reality.

Because Pussy‘s storyline tracks so closely to Williams’ script, but with a word or turn of phrase to land a joke (example: as a stand-in for Buck’s drinking problem, Maggie discovers her emotionally damaged lover is sniffing glue. “This stuff’s destroying you!,” she pleads, to which Buck replies, “No, it’s holding me together!” Get it? Glue? Holding things together? Har, har, har!), you get pulled into the greed-driven plot because the foundational material is so strong. However, I’d have liked Landry to have taken things even further — using Williams’ play as a jumping point rather than such a closely hewn homage — but for what it is, it’s a great time.

“Pussy on the House” plays through October 30 at The Athenaeum Theatre’s Studio Space #3, 2936 N. Southport Ave. Tickets and more info >

11 thoughts on “Meow! Hell in a Handbag turns up the claw-flying camp in a Tennessee Williams classic

  1. The glue joke played great in Boston, doll! It’s stupid but then thats the fun. Right? Also, before you take it upon yourself to critique what has always been an admittedly open “salute” to a great work (and in no way intended to “outdo” the master) you might want to turn on your spell check.
    Just sayin.

    1. Hi, Ryan. Thanks for commenting. Oh, I totally laughed heartily at the glue joke. Why the bitterness in your comment? And I’ve read through my blog post a few times and fail to see a spelling error…?

      1. Wow Ryan has a very thin skin. This is a very good review of the play and the work. A critic can always say what they wished had happened or been written. That is hardly a scathing comment or review.

      2. There is sincerely no “bitterness”. I too, laughed when reading your review. I’m glad you liked the show for the most part but as I tried pointing out in my response, there is no covert attempt here to flat out “steal” Williams dialogue. If that were true then perhaps the night that Tennessee’s brother Dakin (who could be a real stickler when it came to his brothers work) saw the show in New Orleans, I don’t think we would have spent the rest of the evening together, drinking and laughing over how much Tennessee would have loved my adaptation.
        You seemed to elude to that idea in your comments and I’m simply not the type of Queen who keeps her mouth shut or kisses a reviewers ass. In fact I’m one of those lucky bitches who no longer need reviews to sell a show. Hooray for me.
        As far as adapting the text goes, I only called it as I saw it in my mind and wrote around the original work with no intent / agenda whatsoever other than to shed further light on the original work, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”, a masterpiece by the greatest playwright this country has ever seen or perhaps ever will see.
        As for “Pussy on the House”, it ran to sold out houses for over a year (twice) here in Boston and won best new play of the year the first time around. The audience certainly loved it and to me that is all that really matters in the end.
        So no, I am not “bitter” or the least bit upset over a blog review.
        However, this seems to be a concern of yours so If you would like me to send you the script to “Pussy” so that you might compare it to the original, I will be happy to do so.
        You may find you are quite wrong in claiming that most of the text is exactly the same. It is not.
        By the gay, the word “taking” in the sentence, “I’d have liked to have Landry taking things further” should be changed to “taken”.
        One good critique deserves another.
        Thanks for your time.

        1. Thanks for the clarification, Ryan. I didn’t mean to imply you stole from Williams. Sorry if you read it that way — I’ve revised that sentence to eliminate further confusion.

          Regardless: I had a great time, as did the opening night audience, and hope Chicago audiences love it as much here as they did in Boston!

          (And the typo is fixed. Thanks for catching it.)

          1. Suddenly I’m in love with you and your review!
            See how sweet I can be after two valium!
            Drinks when I get to Chicago?
            On me of course.
            And NO, I don’t mean THROWN on me!

        2. Hilariously, Ryan might want to turn off his spell-check. I think you meant “allude,” not “elude.” Just sayin!

  2. Thank you, Doll. Let’s meet for coffee or a drink when I get there.
    I’m good for a few laughs as I’m sure you are. If not, keep up the good work. SOMEBODY has to be passionate about theater outside of WICKED and RENT!

    1. Man… I want to be there when you two have drinks! hehehehe. I haven’t seen “Pussy” yet, but I was at the reading that Hell in a Handbag did earlier this summer. I directed “Trogg! A Musical” with the company and am thrilled that they are doing Ryan Landry’s play. I really love it Ryan and cannot wait to see the produced version. Congrats! And Bob…thanks for going and posting a review.

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