Regional Reviews: Chicago
The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes
The Lost Episodes stage series began in 2017, and the four girls are fierce (this time) in trying to prevent the closure of the Shady Pines Rest Home. As you will undoubtedly recall, Dorothy's mother, elderly Sophia Petrillo, escaped the home at the beginning of the Susan Harris-produced NBC TV series, which premiered in 1985. In a tale of surprisingly authentic smiles and tears, we are told in The Lost Episodes that Sophia was exaggerating just a little about the poor quality of this particular rest home.
The living room and kitchen in this The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes are lovingly recreated by Christopher Rhoton, inside the Hoover-Leppen Theatre. And the overall impact is delightful, thanks to the utter seriousness taken by all concerned in approaching this sure-fire comedy, smack-dab in the middle of modern American commedia dell'arte. The script by David Cerda is wonderfully in line with the canon. It's funny and sweet, and plenty naughty enough, even for the like of you.
In a strangely endearing and metaphorical way, it's a comfy old 1980s sofa to rest on and snuggle into for 90 short minutes, when you should be off in school. Lost Episodes playwright David Cerda is dour and gimlet-eyed as Dorothy (the character originated by Bea Arthur), Ryan Oates is relentlessly troublesome as Sophia (Estelle Getty), and Grant Drager is saucy and insinuating as Blanche (Rue McLanahan). All of them meet or often exceed expectations. But special mention must be made of Ed Jones, who is beautifully nuanced in his portrayal of Rose (Betty White). A Rose is a Rose is a Rose, in this production. St. Olaf stories included.
The supporting cast is in it to win it, as well. The girls go to Shady Pines, and are nearly sucked in as new patients themselves when greeted by Nurse Ursula (Terry McCarthy) and volunteer Esther (Michael Rashid). The home's residents on stage are flawless: Clara (Lori Lee, who actually plays multiple roles) and–at this performance–Robert-Eric West, as Nancy. Miss Lee is genuinely touching as a dementia patient, and Mr. West is highly credible in this performance (till this weekend he was merely on standby as an understudy for Danne W. Taylor, in addition to serving as costumer in this dragalicious extravaganza). Eighteen stars, Mr. West.
But wait, there's more: a mysterious visitor keeps reappearing, played with gentle insistence and admonitions, and 100% stage presence, by Coco Sho-Nell; and Jamie Smith is wonderfully naive as Bob Hope. Rich-voiced Michael S. Miller is as gregarious as any Florida politician as Councilman Hardin, who must be inveigled into the girls' plan to save the rest home in Miami.
It's funny to think that a part of our emotional lives consists of the joyful memory of these pre-existing fictional characters, that they should merit another look. But if you liked the original TV show, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better way to rekindle your softer, sentimental side than with this affecting tribute.
The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes continues through December 30, 2022, at the Center on Halsted, 3656 North Halsted (about a block north of West Addison Street), Chicago IL. For information and tickets, visit www.handbagproductions.org.
* Denotes Hell in a Handbag Ensemble Member