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Die Mommie Die!

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Charles Busch

It’s been only four and a half years since Charles Busch last donned a dress on a New York stage (2003’s Shanghai Moon), but for fans, it may as well have been a lifetime. From the minute Busch makes his first appearance as the rubber-faced, Norma Desmond-like Angela Arden — the name alone oozes melodrama — he owns the surroundings. And in an impressive feat of unbridled magnetism, he leaves the scenery entirely unmasticated. Busch is that rare performer who manages to be both frenetically outsized and teasingly intimate in the same moment. Die Mommie Die!, the playwright-actor’s breezy, often uproariously funny ode to the Joan Crawford era of high-strung histrionics, began its life as a play in L.A. before being adapted into a rather flat 2003 film featuring Busch; yet those incarnations seem almost like rehearsals for this current Off Broadway production, a fitfully vulgar pageant of excess.

Swanning about set designer Michael Anania’s marvelous Hollywood-mansion interiors, Busch plays a slithery wash-up who has designs on offing her Tinseltown boss husband (Bob Ari), while trying to escape the eyes of her randy, lovin’-papa-a-bit-too-much daughter (Ashley Morris, in a splendid debut); her pseudo-gay stoner son (Van Hansis); her hunky, horse-hung gigolo on the side (Chris Hoch); and the loopy Southern Republican maid (Kristine Nielsen), who would love nothing more than to be the female head of the household. Decked out in costumes that would make Blanche Devereaux green with envy, Busch ignites the proceedings as a free-for-all of movies of the past — the kind where people say the word wrong as if there were three o’s in it. Nimbly staged by frequent Busch collaborator Carl Andress, Die Mommie Die! is sometimes too aware of its campiness, and energy seems to flag when Busch is in the wings, but the show is a cheerful valentine to the grotesque that enthralls even in its most lowball moments. B+ (Tickets: 212-239-6200 or Telecharge)