By Stanford Friedman
If you see just one show about depressed yet musical conjoined twins this month, make it From the Hip, a wacky and endearing bit of camp that returns for a brief appearance at the Laurie Beechman Theatre after several sold-out performances back in June. A more informative title for this lark might have been, “A Star is Born Abnormally,” for, at its hard-working heart, it is the tale of an inseparable couple, one of which finds stardom while the other recedes into alcohol and drug-fueled despair. But, you know, in a humorous way.
Sissy (Maggie Moore) and Sassy (Susie Mosher) are the Sheraton Sisters, a four-legged dynamo of talent and weirdness. We follow their hard luck path to fame from playing American Legion halls in Idaho to a New Jersey freak show to the big time at a Philadelphia clam bar, until finally Hollywood comes a callin’. Sassy yearns for the limelight while Sissy would be happy with a hubby. But fate is a cruel task mistress and it’s Sissy who becomes the star. When production starts on their feature film, “Saint Joan,” poor Sassy, dressed in leafy camouflage, must hide behind a sign while Sissy sings about “the saint who sizzles.”
Siamese twin comedy has its own set of rules that are best off not being over-analyzed, but writer/director Blair Fell, who penned this in 1997, (yes, the same year that Side Show opened on Broadway) has a firm grip on them all. There’s the physical humor: Sassy slaps Sissy then holds her own jaw in pain. There’s the throw away one-liner: “I have a feeling in the pit of your stomach.” And there’s the more melancholy line that takes a couple beats to fully appreciate, as in when the twins wish for a pair of conjoined guys, put fear that they might “fall in love diagonally.”
Despite their “shared rectum,” the sisters, and the actors who portray them, are night and day. Moore is subtle, with a deceptively easy singing voice, as much an ingénue as one can be, given the situation. Mosher is a master at broad comedy, and here, when forced into the shadows, she does a deliciously long and silent descent into slobbery self-destruction before finally exploding. Mosher has a long history of burning up the Beechman stage, and does it again this time with a show stopping rendition of “Sassy’s Blues,” where the lyric “can’t live with her, can’t live without her” has never been more literal.
While the sisters’ collective back is turned, Amy Ziff, from the alt-rock band Betty, steals the show away from them in a pair of hilarious and ridiculously inappropriate supporting roles. As Lobster Boy, a side show reject with flipper hands and a dream of jazz woodwind greatness, she represents Sassy’s would-have-been happy ending. But with an assuredness that the “claw technique will be the fingering of the 60’s,” Lobster Boy heads off into a very misguided future. And as the sinister Carlotta, the Minsk-born president of the Sheraton Sister Fan Club, Ziff puts on a Helga wig and a Boris & Natasha accent. She arrives bearing beef jerky which, in lieu of having scenery in this production, gives everyone something to chew.
From the Hip – Written and directed by Blair Fell; original songs by Maggie Moore.
WITH: Susie Mosher (Sassy), Maggie Moore (Sissy), Amy Ziff (Lobster Boy, Carlotta, Mama), Blair Fell (Dogface), Sean Kenin (Phil, Bert, Mo), Brooke Elsinghorst (Prop Girl).
Lights and sound by Abby Judd; Twins costumes by Wade Dooley; Twins wigs by Jonathan Sharpless; Hope Royaltey, producer; Chip Duckett, producer. At the Laurie Beechman Theatre, 407 W 42nd St. Remaining performances: November 11 and November 18 at 7:00 PM, $20 food/beverage minimum, www.SpinCycleNYC.com, 212-352-310. Running time: 70 minutes.