Michael LaMasa and the rest of the familiar cast of “That Golden Girls Show!: A Puppet Parody,” from Jonathan Rockefeller, at the DR2 Theatre through December 11. | RUSS ROWLAND
What is it about “The Golden Girls” and gays? From the moment the sassy sitcom premiered on NBC in 1985, it enjoyed a massive following among gay viewers (confirmed by a Simmons Market Research study) and still resonates today. During its seven-year run, it was not uncommon to venture into a gay bar on a Saturday night and find the Madonna or porn videos replaced with a live “Golden Girls” episode.
You may recall that the show’s theme song, “Thank You For Being a Friend,” closed out the first season of HBO’s “Looking” a couple of years ago, after Jonathan Groff’s character sought solace watching an episode on his laptop. It was such an unexpected, genius moment in a thoughtful series that was unjustly cut down in its prime.
But I digress (as Sophia liked to say).
A zany romp down memory lane with Dorothy, Blanche, Rose, and Sophia, this time as puppets
Was it the snappy comebacks? The over-the-top outfits? The drag queenesque melodrama? Or perhaps it was simply because, like many in the LGBT community, the gals cobbled together their own non-traditional family, living life on their own terms. They shared and squabbled, using humor either as a weapon or a balm.
The boisterous housemates were shamelessly obsessed with finding Mr. Right or Mr. Right Now, and fighting back advancing age. They were fiercely loyal about friendships and embraced diversity. Rare for a mainstream TV show of the era, the topic of homosexuality cropped up now and then in a smart, non-deprecating way. Even AIDS was handled with compassion. Remember, this was light years before we would have our own series like “Looking.”
Well, if you need a break from watching reruns on the Hallmark Channel, sashay on over to the DR2 Theatre in Union Square and check out “That Golden Girls Show!,” where you can relive the funniest iconic moments from the series. This laugh-out-loud parody, created by the obsessive and possibly demented Jonathan Rockefeller (playwright, director, producer), traffics heavily in nostalgia and sentimentality, not that there’s anything wrong with that.
But there’s a twist. These golden girls are now in puppet form, à la “Avenue Q.” Which means the nearly life-sized puppets (created by Joel Gennari) are handled by fully visible companion puppeteers. Even though the actors wear black, they are clearly meant to be seen, with their mannerisms and facial expressions expertly mimicking those of the puppets.
While all of the actors are talented, it comes down to impersonations, and some are more convincing than others. Perhaps the strongest is Cat Greenfield, who perfectly captures Blanche’s syrupy Southern accent, whether she’s being coquettish or caustic. Her Blanche wears the nickname “human mattress” as a badge of honor.
Also dead-on is Michael LaMasa as Dorothy, delivering wise life lessons with a dry, measured cadence worthy of Bea Arthur herself. Which is especially admirable considering LaMasa was originally the understudy and stepped into the role at the last minute.
Likewise, Emmanuelle Zeesman nails it as Dorothy’s octogenarian mother, Sophia, delivering clipped zingers with wild abandon. She gets some of the best lines. After Blanche proclaims she’s going to take a long, hot, steamy bath with just enough water to cover her bosom, Sophia deadpans, “You’re only going to sit in an inch of water?”
Less convincing is Arlee Chadwick, who, while a skilled puppeteer, only occasionally channels Betty White’s ditzy Rose. It doesn’t help that Rose is saddled with a shtick about her hometown, St. Olaf, that is as annoying to the audience as it is to her housemates.
Adding a dose of testosterone is Zach Kononov, who plays Dorothy’s pesky, toupee-wearing ex-husband Stanley to smarmy perfection.
It’s no surprise that the muzzy plot, which I’ve already forgotten, takes a back seat to the gags and nostalgia. Rockefeller crams in as many trademark catch phrases and cherished plot points from the series, and like any parody, it helps if you’re a devoted fan (I confess I am not). I suspect that sometimes audience members burst out laughing at jokes that were more familiar than funny.
The meticulous set, by David Goldstein, is a faithful replica of the Miami home from the series, a mélange of rattan, pastels, palm tree prints, and collectable plates.
Truth be told, my favorite part was at the top of the show, when the beloved theme song began and the audience proceeded to sing along, spontaneously, in complete darkness. To my chagrin, I joined in as well, swept up in the communal affection for happy days gone by. Somehow, I knew all the lyrics.
THAT GOLDEN GIRLS SHOW! A PUPPET PARODY | DR2 Theatre | 103 E. 15th St., btwn. Union Sq. E. & Irving Pl. | Through Dec. 11: Mon.-Tue., Thu. at 7:30 p.m., Fri. at 7:30 &10 p.m.; Sat. at 3 p.m. & 8 p.m.; Sun. at 3 p.m. | $69-$99 at thatgoldengirlsshow.com | Ninety mins., no intermission