theater: Baby Diva 

In the Triangle Players' new musical, everyone is watching his back.

And anything means anything. Though Tina appears to have almost no genuine talent, Sylvia St. Croix — in another fine extreme-eyelash drag performance by Kirk Morton — appears out of nowhere to manage her career.

Tina's kindhearted mother, Judy Denmark (Audrey Stubblefield), recoils from her daughter's ambition and tells her that she wants her to have a normal childhood. Tina interrupts her by saying: "I've had a normal childhood. It's time to move on." Later, even Judy's sugary fa‡ade crumbles in Stubblefield's excellent transformation into a Broadway diva.

Tina stomps, smacks her lips, and glares at other characters with homicidal intent. Much of the humor in the show is generated by Crenshaw's accomplished comedic timing. I know it doesn't speak well of the human race, but somehow it's just plain funny to watch a child seethe with so much crazed anger.

The other characters in the show are just as mean-spirited. As Tina's stepgrandmother, Nancy McMahon channels Fred Flintstone's mother-in-law. She plays a small-minded, vicious theater critic who embodies nearly every common defect ascribed to critics by actors. Tina's teacher (Lisa Kotula) once took a shot at acting in New York but failed. Now she pops pills and screams at her students. Kristen Swanson's elastic face and limbs are used to good effect playing a smart-alecky child actress and, later, a cheeky maid.

Shon M. Stacy's direction and choreography exploit every possible opportunity in the script. Some of his best direction involves the synchronization of physical movement between Tina and other characters. One such moment occurs when Tina and her manager, Sylvia, simultaneously step forward on opposite ends of the stage holding large lollipops while contemplating the demise of the lead actress in Tina's play.

Jessica Lustig's ingenious costume design demonstrates just how much can be accomplished on a small budget. For example, Judy and Tina wear outlandish purple checkered "Alice In Wonderland" dresses with matching white stockings and ribbons.

The script is a little long and might have been better with one less number per act. But the sheer viciousness of the characters and the ebullience of the performances make up for any fuzziness in the script. The authors of the show (book and lyrics by Joey Paley; music by Marvin Laird) always go for the killer joke rather any sort of tepid moral message. As Judy says of her daughter, "So many lessons that I should've taught her, like, for example, to not kill her friends." S

"Ruthless" continues through May 3 at Fieldens Cabaret Theatre, 2033 W. Broad St. Tickets cost $12-$14. Call 346-8113.



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