Reviews Off-Broadway Published 15 December 2014

Christmas with the Crawfords

Abrons Arts Center ⋄ 10th - 27th December 2014

Holiday camp.

Richard Patterson

In a drag show, the evening is often only as good as its star. Unfortunately, Joey Arias, the star of Christmas with the Crawfords, a 1992 trifle of a play by Mark Sargent, can’t quite carry even the lightest of farces on his shoulders — even when, as camp icon Joan Crawford, his shoulders are amply padded.

It’s not for lack of trying; Arias occasionally lands his barbs and looks smashing in costumes and wigs designed by Chris March (a former contestant on Project Runway), who also stars alongside him as Joan’s daughter Christina Crawford, satisfyingly chewing the scenery with support from Adam Davidson as brother Christopher Crawford.

A silly drag play isn’t the place to look for high art, but Christmas with the Crawfords, which features a host of relatively well-known drag queens, including Sherry Vine (as “Baby Jane” Hudson from Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper) and Flotilla DeBarge (as Hattie McDaniels), doesn’t have the oomph required to turn a hokey play into full-speed-ahead drag entertainment. Arias is a renowned performer, but the role of Crawford seems a strain — more outsized personality-wise than Arias seems willing to be. The other performers, withstanding Vine and Connie Champagne (who tackles the role of Judy Garland), suffer from a similar lack of energy. Their hearts just don’t seem to be in it.

The play, which serves mainly as a vehicle for a raft of celebrity impersonations, takes place during Christmas at the Crawfords’ Brentwood home, as a series of illustrious guests (the Andrews Sisters, Gloria Swanson, etc.) arrive during a radio interview with Hedda Hopper (based on a real-life interview), mistaking Joan’s house for her neighbor Gary Cooper’s. There’s little in the way of plot, which is all well and good, but the impersonations on display range from creaky (Flotilla DeBarge’s underpowered Hattie McDaniel) to mediocre (Jason B. Schmidt’s spirited Gloria Swanson) to inspired (Vine and Champagne, camping it up to full effect). Vine’s take on Bette Davis as “Baby Jane,” complete with her curly blonde wig and salty verbal tics, gives the beginning of the play a much-needed jolt of energy. Champagne brings a similar zest to the play’s second half. Her spot-on take on Judy Garland’s mannerisms (both in terms of body movements and singing style) are, at times, eerie. She’s not exactly a dead ringer for Judy, but she’s close enough — and as she swirls about the stage, even as part of an on stage group, she never for a moment breaks character.

That level of commitment displayed by Vine and Champagne is never matched by the rest of the cast, unfortunately. A play about Christmas at Joan Crawford’s house seems rife with opportunities for camp extravagances, but the cast here doesn’t take those excesses far enough. Much of the script here is plucked directly from the dialogue of Crawford’s films (and others), but instead of emerging as a delicious holiday fruitcake (assembled from the best ingredients), Christmas with the Crawfords ultimately feels more like a Jello mold, featuring moments of crisp camp congealed, amber-like, within its brief running time — promising, but never quite delivering, sweet satisfaction.


Richard Patterson

A graduate of New York University with a degree in Dramatic Literature, Richard was deputy theatre editor at from 2008-2011 and New York Editor of Exeunt from 2011-2016. He is excited to continue on as a contributor. With a penchant for Sondheim, the Bard, and Beckett, as well as for new writing, theatergoing highlights include Fiona Shaw's Winnie in "Happy Days," Derek Jacobi's Lear, Jonathan Pryce in "The Caretaker," and Chiwetel Ejiofor's Othello at the Donmar. Richard's criticism has been published in The Sondheim Review.

Christmas with the Crawfords Show Info

Directed by Donna Drake

Written by Mark Sargent

Cast includes Joey Arias, Connie Champagne, Adam Davidson, Flotilla DeBarge, Brett-Marco Glauser, Garrit Guadan, Chris March, Jason B. Schmidt, Vodka Stinger, Sherry Vine


Running Time 1 hr, 30 min (with no intermission)



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