San Diego Theater Review: SHE-RANTULAS FROM OUTER SPACE-IN 3D! (Diversionary Theatre)

Post image for San Diego Theater Review: SHE-RANTULAS FROM OUTER SPACE-IN 3D! (Diversionary Theatre)

by Milo Shapiro on November 3, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional

CAMPY SHE-RANTULAS HAS QUITE A BITE defines “camp” as “something that provides sophisticated, knowing amusement, as by virtue of its being artlessly mannered or stylized, self-consciously artificial and extravagant.”  Perhaps more to the point, though, is the quote found in Andy Collins in She-Rantulas from Outer Space-in3D! at Diversionary Theatre.the margin; author Curtis F. Brown quips, “In short, camp mocks bad taste; kitsch exploits it. Camp arouses our sense of the ridiculous and we respond with amused tolerance.”

In the world premiere of She-Rantulas from Outer Space-in 3D!, playwrights Ruff Yeager and Phil Johnson celebrate the ridiculous, yielding amusement that was far more than tolerated by Diversionary Theatre’s primarily gay audience.  Why exactly the gay community has so fully embraced campy film and theater over the decades is a subject for another essay, but what She-Rantulas does so well is parody B-movies, a genre that was already ripe for laughter.  The term “B-movie” refers to a lower quality film, often the second half of a double billing.  These films were generally low budget ventures requiring creativity (often to poor effect) to complete the film.  Horror movies were ripe for this treatment in the 1950s and the poorest of them need not be parodied to yield laughter today.

Tony Houck in She-Rantulas from Outer Space-in3D! at Diversionary Theatre.

With this genre in mind, Yeager and Johnson had originally intended to stage a campy version of 1954’s hit The Bad Seed with the gender roles reversed; as such, the rights were denied to them.  The two men, longtime institutions of creative productions in San Diego, weren’t to be stopped.  They decided to keep the gender-bending concept, but apply it to a new script set in the early 1950s that they would write together.  The result is ludicrous, unbelievable, grossly over-acted, and lacking any depth or meaning − exactly as it should be in this purposefully over-the-top comedy.

Fred Harlow and Melinda Gilb in She-Rantulas from Outer Space-in3D! at Diversionary Theatre.

Johnson stars in drag as Betty, a single Mom who struggles to balance a perfect June Cleaver persona as she hides a deep secret.  Tony Houck is dead-on as Betty’s evil-eyed Shirley Temple-ish daughter Suzie, who is clearly not all she pretends to be.  When the show commences with the pair moving to idyllic little Tarrytown as, coincidentally, all the men in town are mysteriously disappearing, it sets the stage for the craziness that is about to ensue.  While it’s not zombies, a blob, or a mummy giving us the B-Movie film, the title indicates exactly where this is going to go.  Yet knowing takes nothing away from the fun.  In fact, watching how the predictable comes to pass is much of the fun, especially with Johnson’s malleable face exaggerating every emotion to excess.

Phil Johnson in She-Rantulas from Outer Space-in3D! at Diversionary Theatre.

Diversionary returnees Andy Collins and Fred Harlow add to the fun in dual roles, each as a man and a woman.  It is the delightful Melinda Gilb, however, who plays so many roles that she stops the show at one point with laughter and applause, having just managed a fast costume change that catches the audience off-guard.   If there’s a female 50s stereotype that Yeager and Johnson have missed for her during the uninterrupted 90 minutes, it’d be hard to find.  From the bible-thumper to the sassy building manager to the Avon Lady, Gilb enters in new costume, ready to amuse.

Melinda Gilb in She-Rantulas from Outer Space-in3D! at Diversionary Theatre.

The only real caveat on She-Rantulas is that camp, especially in conjunction with drag, is simply not everyone’s cup of tea.  While this reviewer was as entertained as the rest of the full house, he can also imagine many serious theater-goers eyeing the emergency exits within ten minutes if such broad humor is not their taste.  If you’ve enjoyed an occasional episode of Monty Python or Benny Hill, though, and if Bette Davis’s larger-than-life nature is a good time for you, the lunacy of She-Rantulas is more than worthy.  Especially in 3D.

photos ©Daren Scott

She-Rantulas from Outer Space-in 3D!
Diversionary Theatre
scheduled to end on November 17, 2013
for tickets, call 619.220.0097 or visit

Leave a Comment