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A CurtainUp Review

Mondo Drama

Question: What is Mondo Drama?
A documentary performed live on stage that explores life at its most perverse---Douglas Carter Beane
Question: Has the world outgrown Mondo?
If you ask us, the world didn't go away from Mondo, it became Mondo. . . Everywhere, perversity lurks ---Terza and Seconda
Miriam Shor, Siobhán Mahone and Caroline Rhea
Miriam Shor, Siobhán Mahone and Caroline Rhea (Photo: Joan Marcus )
Douglas Carter Beane, that master chef of lite and highly polished diversions generously spiced with laughter is at it again. Indulging his penchant for all things nostalgic, he has targeted the 60's shock-u-mentary Italian films that soared to filmdom's zenith with the 1963 Academy Award winning Mondo Cane.

From the moment you enter the Drama Dept's home at Greenwich House, a scrim curtain that doubles as a screen is awash with all sorts of Mondo-dramatic images accompanied by the peppy beat of Nino Rota sixties style music. As curtain time approaches a particularly graphic image freezes on screen and then dissolves into the title. This being a comedy of "life at its most perverse" it's reversed (AMARD ODNOM). On to, or rather on and through the screen, and three attractive movie goers who will be our guides to the Mondo world: Prima (Miriam Shor), Seconda (Siobhan Mahoney) and Terza (Caroline Rhea).

Mr. Beane couldn't wish for a better team to transport the audience from one seedy and sassy mondo flick to another. Whether working in tandem or doing solo turns, they are reason enough to sign on for this tour of everything Mondo. Ms. Rhea, who is new to the stage but a TV celebrity, should have no problem getting other theater gigs. She has a relaxed stage presence. Miriam Shor, who memorably portrayed Yitzak in Hedwig and the Angry Inch and a Joan of Arc-like character in Lanford Wilson's Book of Days, proves herself to be a fine comedienne. Ms. Mahoney, who's new to me, more than holds her own.

So much for the good news. While Mondo Drama once again showcases an original and distinctly contemporary wit at work, the various stops on this fun ride down Mondo Memory Lane tends to push your laugh button too hard and too long. What's hilarious for a while, fizzles to a chuckle and, about halfway through the ninety minutes, begins to feel wafer thin. Unlike Beane's As Bees in Honey Drown and The Country Club, which were plays that happened to be very funny, Mono-Drama is too often shtik masquerading as a play.

The Mondo dramatic journey begins with our trio of guides taking turns presenting a historic overview of the genre and its evolution from off-beat to on-the-money sensation that spawned "a delicious succession of follow-ups and rip-offs," that had critics delcaring that the filmmakers are "making a genre " and bankers proclaiming that "they are making a fortune." Prima, Seconda and Terza then metamorphose into Cliche, Plateau and Frotage, three drag queens who are not what they seem for variously (as in hilariously) explained reasons. From Manhattan's meat district it's onward and Eastward to an Orient where "every massage has a happy ending."

A piece about a socialite (Shor) who adopts a starving Mexican boy (Rhea) is a wry commentary on self-absorbed do-gooders. The comedy's tendency to veer from satire towards a segment from Saturday Night Live becomes painfully evident in an Arabian Mondo piece about a trio of American girls kidnapped by white slavers. They turn fear into a demonstration of the American "win, even if we have to lose" spirit by refusing to be auctioned off at a loser's price of a few cigarettes. By the time the Mondo globe spins round for a stop in the Galapagos, the funniest thing about three endangered sea turtles are Gregory A. Gale's costumes (which are spot-on throughout). Things pick up again in an Amsterdam brothel where the hookers preview the tricks available in front of a two-way mirror at the same time exchanging meat loaf recipes. While Mahoney as Hulga and Rhea as Hilga are a hoot, it's a Mondo that doesn't know quite when to call it quits.

Christopher Ashley, as usual, knows how to keep things zooming along and the production elements, like the acting, are first-rate. The video projections by Ben Odell & Jon Stern and Allen Moyer's old movie set support the conceit that drives the show.

Prima, Seconda and Terza admit that the Mondo genre is over, but declare that "the world didn't go away from Mondo, it became Mondo" -- a sad but accurate way of saying that life has come to imitate schlock. Still, as long as scrappy little companies like the Drama Dept can succeed, schlock won't rise and completely obliterate good entertainment.

The Country Club
Music From a Sparkling Planet
As Bees in Honey Drown;

Written by Douglas Carter Beane.
Directed by Christopher Ashley
Cast: Caroline Rhea, Miriam Shor and Siobhán Mahoney
Set Design: Allen Moyer
Costume Design: Gregory A. Gale
Lighting Design: Kirk Bookman
Sound Design: Laura Grace Brown
Original Music: Lewis Flinn
Video Design: Ben Odell & Jon SternRunning time: 90 minutes without intermission
Drama Dept, Greenwich House Theatre, 27 Barrow St. (off 7th Ave. So), 212-2396200
5/09/03-6/14/03; opening 5/22/03.
Through 5/31: Tues-Fri 8pm, Sat 7pm and 10pm, Sunday 7pm. From 6/01: Mon-Fri 8pm, Sat 7 and 10pm -- $45. Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on performance

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