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Mildred Fierce, You Are Something Else!

Varla Jean Merman (aka Jeffery Roberson) and the Gold Dust Orphans in "Mildred Fierce." (Photo courtesy of the Gold Dust Orphans)


Oh, Mildred, you’ve won my heart. I can’t stop thinking about you, dear Mildred.

No, not you, Mildred Pierce. We all know about you in all your Joan Crawford glory and your film noir femme fatale furnishings. You think you’re such an icon, don’t you. Well get over yourself, Ms. Pierce.

I’m talking about Mildred Fierce. Yes you, Varla Jean Merman. In this inspired takeoff of the film, you have everyone at Machine – the club opposite Remy’s on Boylston Street – in hysterics (through March 17) as, against all odds, you make a better life for yourself and your band of brothers and sisters, the Gold Dust Orphans. As most of you are in drag it’s hard to know what to call you.

Well, I’d call you all a treasure, that’s what I’d call you. Starting with you, Ryan Landry, the Orphans’ artful dodger, the guy in charge who writes the zany but masterful material and does some pretty mean drag turns himself. And you, Penny Champayne. Talk about gams that never stop. And you, Olive Another, and your selfless devotion to your sister, Mildred. And you, Amelia Gossett, for those Cinerama sets that would make Robert Wilson drool with envy.

Penny Champayne. (Photo courtesy of Gold Dust Orphans)

Penny Champayne. (Photo courtesy of Gold Dust Orphans)

But it’s the whole ensemble, the whole Machine gestalt (you love it when I talk dirty, don’t you, Mildred) that makes “Mildred Fierce” the most entertaining show I’ve seen at Machine in years. (Though even you, dear Mildred, can’t compete with Landry’s greatest work, “Who’s Afraid of the Virgin Mary?” You do come close, though, to another all-time favorite, the takeoff of Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” called “Pussy on the House.”)

But let’s get back to your glories, Mildred. May I call you Varla Jean? Oh, thank you. May I call you Jeffery? That is your Christian name, after all, isn’t it? Jeffery Roberson?

Still, we like to think of you as Varla Jean, dear lady. What I really love about you is your generosity – spreading such cheer among the Orphans just as you spread so much love as “The Divine Sister” at SpeakEasy Stage with that magnificent ensemble a couple of years ago. Those of us who saw you will never forget your “Sound of Music/ What is it you can’t face” exchange with Paula Plum. I still break out into giggles just thinking about the two of you.

You make everyone around you a better person, Varla Jean, playing straight man/woman to so many of Boston’s finest, like Mmes. Plum and Champayne. And let’s not forget those other Orphans, either, all of them reaching inspired heights (though the religious right might call it the depths) with their dancing, directing and designing. It’s all so delicious, dear one.

Please come back soon, Varla Jean. You and Ryan Landry are such a handsome couple. You bring such cheer to the Orphans. You not only entertain us, you make us all better people. You really do.

Radio Boston reports on “Mildred Fierce.”


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