Four people stand in a line onstage. Behind them is a tinsel curtain and a table with a doll, a boombox, and other items. On the left is "Frau," (played by a male actor), wearing a red wig and a black jumpsuit. Next are two people dressed as Barry Gibb and Barbra Streisand, holding microphones and singing. They are in costumes and wigs from the late 70s. At the far right is a person in a green wig, wearing a buckled leather jacket and long denim shorts.
From left: Brian Shaw, Nicky Mendelsohn, Tyler Anthony Smith, and Dakota Hughes in Hell in a Handbag's Frankenstreisand Credit: Rick Aguilar Studios

Dr. Barbra Joan Frankenstreisand (Tyler Anthony Smith)—that ultimate hyphenate: superstar-mad scientist—has commandeered the stage at the Raven Room at Redline VR bar for what she calls a “clone-cert” to duplicate her beloved and very dead pooch. 

Few theater companies understand characters toeing the line between stardom and monstrousness like Hell in a Handbag Productions. Frankenstreisand, just in time for the Halloween season, crosses that line brilliantly into horror parody in its hilarious depiction of Dr. Frankenstreisand’s inept attempts at cloning and/or necromancy (the main characters initially are unsure whether they are duplicating the dog or bringing her back to life). 

Frankenstreisand
Through 10/31: Thu 7:30 PM, Fri-Sat 9:15 PM; also Mon 10/31 7:30 PM; no performance Sat 10/8, Redline VR, 4702 N. Ravenswood, handbagproductions.org, $40 VIP, $30 at the door, $25 advance

The good doctor is accompanied onstage by her lab assistant, the Hunchback (Dakota Hughes, also the musical director), whose eagerness to please their mistress is matched only by their ineptness, thanks to a limited attention span and stumps for hands. Housekeeper Frau Fräulein (Brian Shaw), the very embodiment of weltschmerz, offers dry commentary and loads CDs as the cast cycles through highlights from the Streisand songbook.

Making occasional appearances are also Judy Garland (Elizabeth Lesinski), Oprah (Robert Williams), and Barry Gibb (Nicky Mendelsohn)—who ends the show looking as battered as Frankenstreisand’s dog—among others. 

The real Streisand’s reported ego and perfectionism are no secret to her public, so the intersection of her persona with your average mad scientist’s inherent hubris and existential terror is a natural fit for Hell in a Handbag. The company’s shows frequently deconstruct the personas of iconic stars by playing to the audience’s knowledge of their ghoulish behavior behind closed doors. At the same time, Handbag shows speculate on the anxiety, neuroses, and survival mechanisms that brought the star to those behaviors in the first place (cofounder David Cerda’s recurring depiction of Joan Crawford comes to mind). 

Smith offers a terrific depiction of Frankenstreisand and really looks and sounds the part—with one exception where he lip-synchs, it’s him singing those Barbra songs. Smith’s generosity as both a writer and performer—ironic as he’s riffing on a person noted for being a control freak—is evident from all the moments the Hunchback just beams in Frankenstreisand.

Hughes, a fabulous singer, is a standout. The show is the Hunchback’s journey even more than it is Barbra’s. The Hunchback opens Frankenstreisand by elegantly entering in a fur coat as the Funny Girl overture plays (I was reminded of the opening to Cher in the 70s, wherein Cher would toss off an expensive mink when her opening number hit a key change). It’s the Hunchback who also leads the grand finale, not Barbra. 

Smith’s script and Stephanie Shaw’s direction keep the show moving along at a brisk clip, though they probably could have done with a few less “who’s on first”-type exchanges that bring everything to a halt without advancing any story or characters.  

Kudos should go to costume designer Beth Laske-Miller, especially for her exquisite re-creation of Barbra’s sheer jumpsuit from the 1968 Oscars. Special mention also should be made of the wigs by designer Keith Ryan—Dr. Frankenstreisand’s 70s perm evoking the disco/Jon Peters era and a later nod to the Bride of Frankenstein are terrific.

I have never noticed anyone’s fingernails, save for Wolverine’s and Freddy Krueger’s, in a play or movie, but makeup designer Sydney Genco needs to do Barbra Streisand’s nails in real life. Finally, Lolly Extract and Jabberwocky Marionettes’ interpretation of Frankenstreisand’s dog will likely guest star in a few of your nightmares.