Mama's Family at The Rock, and Other Weekend Shenanigans

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Somewhere in the universe, there's always going to be someone whose idea of contributing to society is transcribing the dialogue of old sitcoms and posting it online. Without such people, it'd be an even rarer thing to be able to walk into a bar and see live re-creations of episodes of The Golden Girls and Mama's Family.

In the carefree and prosperous 1980s, there were a lot more TV shows with large female casts and scenes that pass the Bechdel test. And they're now great showcases for drag queens who want to show off their developing acting chops, in any case.

The AZ Gender Outlaws, led by Pandora DeStrange, have been making our summer just a bit more wacky with these zippy little shows. This weekend is your last chance to see what the fuck the deal is -- the Outlaws are busy guys and gals with a bunch of projects on deck for our entertainment pleasure (including a run of Hedwig and the Angry Inch next January!), but salutes to Betty White, et al., are off the table for the near future.

I've worshipped Carol Burnett since I was a tiny critic in pigtails, and although I always felt that "The Family" sketches were one of the weakest elements of her variety show, her Eunice character was the most fascinating thing about them. And reruns of the freestanding sitcom Mama's Family, with the cast led by Vicki Lawrence as Mama, still have rabid fans.

What's being presented at The Rock is a 1983 episode that includes Eunice -- "Rashomama," a title so sweet that CSI used it down the road. Television made it possible for the three conflicting accounts of how Mama got hit in the head with a saucepan to differ right down to how ruffly, hideous, or slutty each character's dress was in each flashback. In this live version, the performers have to make the magic, and they do a pretty good job.

No one's trying to physically or vocally imitate the original actresses, as far as I can tell. (That might be because the nuances of being middle-aged and frumpy in a small Southern town aren't part of the curricula of most schools of female impersonation -- it's not the kind of diva-ing that icons are made of.) But the costumes, hair, and makeup are super-true to the looks and spirit of Eunice, Ellen, Mama, Naomi, and Vint.

Speaking of spirit, this short play is well-rehearsed and good-natured, with fiercely energetic performances and some good laughs. And the next two performances include extra bonus fun: Tonight, Friday, July 29, the show will be followed by Lady Christian's Trailer Trash Revue and a special showing of AZ Gender Outlaws' entry in IFP Phoenix's recent 48-Hour Beat the Clock Film Challenge. (The Outlaws make a lot of films, and some of their "commercials" play during the breaks in Mama's Family.) On Sunday, July 31, you can enjoy a sumptuous brunch before a matinee of "Rashomama."

Mama's Family continues through Sunday, July 31, at The Rock, 4129 North Seventh Avenue. General admission is $8; $20 gets you in to brunch and the performance on Sunday afternoon. Make a reservation here or call 602-248-8559.

The author of the bizarre and moving Octopus, presented last season by Stray Cat Theatre, will be in Tempe for a staged reading and discussion of his new play Wolves on Saturday, July 30, starting at 8 p.m. Directed by Ron May and featuring Drew Leatham, Jonathan Furedy, Adam Pinti, and Yolanda London, the evening sounds like a real treat. We don't get exclusive theater events like this very often -- juuuuust putting that out there. Book your seat, $5, here, or take your chances at the door at Tempe Performing Arts Center, 132 East Sixth Street.

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