Review: Hell Hath No Fury Like a Diva Scorned in ‘Live From Hell’
By Miles Harter, Contributing Writer, March 28, 2017
In revenge-themed plays and movies, the virtuous central character has been unjustly wronged, seeks retaliation against the evildoer, and righteousness prevails. Diva: Live From Hell provides ingenious twists on this classic theme of good versus evil. The central character, Desmond Channing, is far from virtuous and he has not been unjustly wronged. Still, he seeks retaliation against someone whom he feels has wronged him. The ultimate twist is that Desmond, notwithstanding his evil deeds, is surprisingly a captivating character whom we like.
In this one-man show, Sean Patrick Monahan as Desmond delivers a winsome cabaret performance from hell, as he takes us through the events that have led him to perdition. Desmond is wholly authentic, wisecracking that unlike Hamilton, all in his story is true. He is also unabashedly self-absorbed, declaring that on earth he had been the star of his own world — the successful high school musical geek and president of the drama club. But when Evan, a talented new kid moves into town, Desmond becomes unhinged by jealousy, and he commits the ultimate act of crazed revenge.
Things end badly for Desmond, and he lands in hell. Even in hell, he remains the bitchy diva. With regard to one number, Desmond petulantly complains to the music director of the cabaret show, the very expressive Luke McGinnis, that he is not “up to that key tonight,” and demands several times that Mr. McGinnis lower the key. He drolly gloats that Roy Cohn (the former Joseph McCarthy combative henchman and ultimately disbarred attorney who later mentored a young avaricious Donald Trump) and John Wayne Gacy (the serial killer and rapist) are also in hell.
Mr. Monahan, who also wrote the terrific campy book, shines as Desmond. He artfully assumes the personas of the other characters in the story, too. As the playwright, Mr. Monahan infuses his tale with wonderfully reverent and sometimes rapid-fire cute references to other shows and actors, demonstrating his endearing and enduring love for theatre. Immediately clear to aficionados of film and stage is even the provenance of Desmond Channing’s fabulous name: Norma Desmond was the faded stage star in Sunset Boulevard and Margo Channing was the aging and threatened star in All About Eve.
The music by Alexander Sage Oyen is superb. His best song is a particularly moving ballad of unrequited love for Desmond. Mr. Monahan beautifully croons this tune in the persona of Ally Hewitt, the drama club’s female stage manager.
Diva: Live From Hell presented at the Theater for the New City’s Community Space Theater, 155 First Avenue through Sunday, April 9, 2017. Presented by Unstoppable Theater and Jenna Grossano. Book and characters by Sean Patrick Monahan; music and lyrics by Alexander Sage Oyen. Directed by Daniel Goldstein; scenic design by Dan Geggatt and Caitlyn Murphy; lighting design by Paige Seber; sound design by Tyler Kieffer; costume design by Tilly Grimes; choreography by Jennifer Jancuska. Music director/orchestrations/piano: Luke McGinnis. Cast: Sean Patrick Monahan.
Cover: Sean Patrick Monahan in ‘Diva: Live From Hell’ / courtesy of production.