note: entire contents copyright 2001 by Beverly Creasey
"No Way to Treat A Lady" is a high energy romp: clever, satirical songs, a passel of eccentric characters --- the majority of whom are played by chameleon Maryanne Zschau --- and a camp story about a serial killer who just wants some attention. The Douglas J. Cohen musical is based on a William Goldman novel --- but you're more likely to remember the darkly comic film starring Rod Steiger and George Siegal.
Cohen transcends camp when he links the detective and the killer, each of whom has become dependent on the other for his career. Sparks ignite when J. H. Williston as the psycho sings "I feel you near me" about the cop, as if it were a love song. Creepy stuff, stylishly staged by Spiro Veloudos and smartly music directed by Jonathan Goldberg.
Derek Stearns is the charmingly old-fashioned "odd gumshoe-ish Jewish" detective who lives with his mother. Williston, as the steely-eyed, cold-blooded killer, lives with his mother too, but only in his mind. Her death evidently set his neurons ablaze.
No one gives the third degree like the detective's mother; in a cute Sondheimish song she grills him "I hear humming...and it's coming...from you!" No one taunts and belittles like the killer's Norma Desmond lookalike mother. Zschau makes both women downright scary, but she gives the Jewish mom a comic edge. Did we mention she plays the victims too? Funny, desperate ladies who invite the psycho right in --- even throw themselves into his arms.
Robin V. Allison gives the detective's girlfriend pizzazz and makes her much more than a possible victim for Williston in one of his many disguises. Veloudos gets lots of mileage out of mother and girlfriend first meeting ("So Much in Common") and choreographer Mary Mazzulli punches up the delightful quartet with some inventive staging for the principals. (I wanted a duet for the two moms, but that isn't possible....although if anyone could do it, Zschau could!)
Gail Astrid Buckley's costumes are adorably '60s, especially Williston's turn in drag, and Laurie A. light's crack stage-crew manages the dozens of set changes in a nano-second. Janie E. Howland's set is framed at the back with doors: the French doors, Dutch doors, screen doors, apartment doors, panelled doors which open so carelessly for the killer. It may be "No Way to Treat A Lady" but it's a great way to spend an evening.