Saturday, March 9, 2019

Born to Win by Matthew Wilkas and Mark Setlock

L - R Drew Droege, Matt Wilkas - Photos by Matthew Brian Denman

By Joe Straw

There is a striking resemblance between this play and Dixie’s Tupperware Party by Ken Anderson. – Narrator

Celebration Theatre presents Born to Win by Matthew Wilkas and Mark Setlock, directed by Michael Matthews, and produced by Rebecca Eisenberg, Nathan Frizzel, and Michael O’Hara at the Lex Theatre in Hollywood through March 31, 2019.

Well, let’s see.

Born to Win was previously titled Pageant Play when it premiered in July 2008 at the Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.   On this particular night, it played to a sold-out house at The Lex Theatre. The audience was mostly men with, one supposes, an eccentric fascination for child beauty pageants, or for the people who participate in it.  Because, beauty pageants just ain’t about the glitz and glamour.

The theatrical setting is in Texas reminiscent of a weary storefront, basement, or storm shelter with wig mannequins sitting on shelves and layered against glittered walls, that are also layered with small frilly dresses.  Beyond the presentation stage, is seminar seating (us the audience) compliments the space. A clothesline stretches from one end of the space to the other and is used effectively and creatively throughout the night – compliments of Stephen Gifford, Scenic Designer.

In this space, our two main characters promote their business to potential clients who will pay big fees to take their classes and are hopefully guaranteed a winner.  And like racehorses, they have no use for place or show.   

Bobby (Drew Droege) and Bob (Matt Wilkas) run this operation.  Bobby is the voluble one of this enterprise, the one with the clear and concise message about your daughters not being that pretty, but pretty enough to win with their help.  Bob does the makeup, hair, and has the acumen for business and numbers, but for now is willing to give Bobby the run of the show.

Their five-letter acronym SHEIT are their tools for success – smile, hair, eyes, illusion, and tenacity.  One would suggest they aren’t terribly bright to let this acronym pass, or maybe they’re just Texans.

Marge (Daiva Deupree) is the new mom entering her daughter Puddles (represented by a blue green dress) in a pageant. Puddles manages to win with the help of only her mother! In pageant circles, that just ain’t right.

Dejected onlooker, Pinky (Julanne Chidi Hill), has other plans for Puddles. Pinky’s daughter, Chevolet (represented by a pink dress), has been consistently winning contests.  But now, because of Puddles, Chevolet finishes in second place. Pinky’s animus then kicks into second gear and that just ain’t right.  
No matter, Pinky wants to help Marge and Puddles so she sends them to Bobby and Bob. The cost to manage Puddles, including hair, makeup, choreography, etc., will be around $7,000.  Marge says she can’t afford it so Pinky, married to a rich local toothpick manufacturer, says she will foot the bill.

Reluctantly, Marge accepts Pinky’s help. Later they come to blows as termagant women.

Even in this theatre of the absurd, there are some very serious issues going on in the play.  Just the little things like kidnapping and domestic abuse, which are not really funny but work within the construct of Wilkas and Setlock’s play.   

Love and desperation are words that play well with each character but, in retrospect, the love is not deep enough, and the desperation seems to fall short of their objectives.    

That said, Bobby and Bob’s relationship doesn’t progress in a satisfying way.  It seems to happen only because the words move us in that direction.  

But there is one moment, when Bobby compliments Bob on his choreography, that the relationship takes a leap forward.  The revelation should be dramatic – a moment that patches the strained relationship. It should tell us where these two characters are headed as they move from business associates into something more.    

This leads us to desperation.  The chase scene in the end, although comical, would play better if those characters desperately want each other and want each other forever.

Michael Matthew, the director, gives the show a rousing interpretation filled with surprises including exceptional performances by all.  The chase scene has funny moments but goes on long beyond its purpose.

There is a lot to enjoy from Matthew Wilkas and Mark Setlock’s play. Some moments ring a sincere truth about the makeup of people but then there are other moments that take us into the absurd and out of reality. Can a production be both?  It there something we are to learn? Or maybe we go for the fun of it?

L - R Daiva Deupree, Julanne Chidi Hill

Daiva Deupree gives the character Marge a lot of backstory, always hiding from someone about something, a crime, and an abusive partner.  There is a tremendous amount to enjoy of her character work and the simple things that move the character throughout the story.  It was terrific work.

Drew Droege plays Bobby, a grown man who thinks he knows what is right for every little girl entering a beauty pageant.  He is the idea man who finds out later that maybe his ideas were a little off base. Looking for his partner near the end needs that desperation of a love lost never to be found.  Droege also plays the abusive husband, a completely different character and completely unrecognizable in a very nice turn.  One is not sure how he escaped and found the house in the last chase scene.

Julanne Chidi Hill has her moments as Pinky, someone who is loving and notorious all in the same breath. Stabbing the mannequin to cozen her opponent goes a little too far in her quest for what she wants.  The moment turns her into an antagonistic behemoth. It is not funny and one wonders if there are better choices for this character at that moment. We have to know that she is doing these things out of love for her daughter. Still, there is much to enjoy from Hill’s performance and overall she is excellent in her craft.

L - R Julanne Chidi Hill, Matt Wilkas

Matt Wilkas hits all the right notes as Bob the partner who is treated as an underling. Wilkas is funny as Bob who accepts a lot of information and acts accordingly.  And, what is Bob thinking? Is it the situation?  Or, is it his relationship?  Wilkas is also Gunnar, the toothpick manufacturer who doesn’t understand his wife. (Join the club.) He is a man so entrenched with his job that a cinnamon flavored toothpick sends him over the edge. It is another wonderful character for Wilkas.

The Lex Theatre is a wonderful place to view a show and the Celebration Theatre’s production crew and support staff are second to none!

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Tom DeTrinis – Assistant Director
Estey DeMerchant – Production Stage Manager
Trevor Lee – Assistant Stage Manager
Matthew Brian Denman – Lighting Designer
Allison Dillard – Costume Designer
Rebecca Kessin – Sound Designer
Michael O’Hara – Props Designer/Producer/Managing Director
Sondra Mayer – Fight Director
Tuffet Schmelzle – Dialect Coach
Janet Roston – Choreography Consultant
Michael C. Kricfalusi – Executive Director/Executive Producer
Michael A. Shepperd – Artistic Director/Executive Producer
Rebecca Eisenberg – Producer
Nathan Frizzell – Producer
Mark Giberson – Associate Producer
David Tran – Associate Producer
Jami Rudofsky – Casting Director
David Elzer/Demand PR – Marketing/PR/Publicity 

Run! Run! And take a former beauty pageant contestant.  You'll have the time of your life. 

Celebration Theatre
6760 Lexington Ave.
Los Angeles, CA, 90038

For tickets, please call (323) 957-1884 - or visit to purchase tickets online or to view a complete schedule!


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