Charles Busch’s “Red Scare on Sunset” (at the Costa Mesa Playhouse through Oct. 2) tackles what seems like a odd subject for a comedy—the “gray, horrifying period” in Hollywood history known as the blacklist era. The playwright no doubt figured if Mel Brooks could use the Nazi invasion of Europe as the basis for a comedy, Busch could satirize the Communist witch hunt that turned Tinseltown upside down in the 1950s and wreaked havoc among actors, writers, directors and their families.

Michael Dale Brown, who directed and did the set design, keeps things moving and puts Busch’s darkly comic points across, though the goings-on never rise to the level of Brooks’ “The Producers.” The second act is sillier and less successful than the first but you don’t have to know anything about the blacklist to get the humor, a smart move on the playwright’s part. Ultimately, the fascist bastards in our government far outnumbered the Commies in Hollywood, but a lot of lives were destroyed—and the better informed you are, the less amusing you may find the play.

The central character, movie star Mary Dale, was written by Busch for himself to play in drag; Jon Sparks, who’s freakishly tall in high heels, doesn’t go overboard, wisely allowing the outlandish scenario to spin itself around him. Mary’s best friend Pat, a low comedienne, is played much broader by Michelle M. Pedersen, but her performance is exactly right for the part of a comic. Drew Fitzsimmons (Mary’s gay houseboy) and Julia Boese (a Method actress) also stand out in the cast.

Author: Jordan R. Young

Jordan R. Young is a journalist, show business historian, playwright and theatre critic. His work has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, Los Angeles Magazine, Westways, AAA Tour Books, and The People’s Almanac.