Shanghai Moon

Set in 1931, satirist Charles Busch’s politically incorrect farce pokes fun at pre–Hays (censorship) Code movie melodramas from the 1930s. Starring luminaries like Barbara Stanwyck or Marlene Dietrich, these films, which frequently harbored racist undercurrents, told tales involving up-from-their-bootstraps babes who traded sex for wealth and power. Directed by Ken Salzman, this staging features a cross-dressed R. Christofer Sands as Lady Sylvia Allington, a steamy siren who accompanies her husband on a diplomatic mission to Shanghai and becomes embroiled in a pot-boiling affair with a diabolical Chinese general (Christopher Chen). Before play’s end, the unfortunate drama queen has become hooked on opium, been branded as the general’s slave, and put on trial for murder. It’s all pure escapism and ably executed, especially by Sands, a seasoned veteran of cross-gender roles. Also skillfully entertaining are Chen’s snide, sneering villain and Minda Grace Ware — unerringly on-target in male drag — as Lady Allington’s no-goodnik first spouse. Lively production values — David Calhoun’s set, Maro Parian’s costumes and SanZman’s sound — contribute to the fun. Unfortunately, at 90-plus minutes without intermission, the material’s predictably campy humor eventually wears thin, and the tiny theater — with the players and the audience in such close proximity ±— constrains performances in a piece intended to be played vastly larger than life. Luna Playhouse, 3706 San Fernando Road, Glendale; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through December 20. (818) 500-7200.
Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Starts: Nov. 15. Continues through Dec. 20, 2008

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