D’arcy Drollinger Gets Bitchslapped

By David Helton | Images courtesy of Jeff Kaluzny

Bitch Slap! Adultery, blackmail, confessions, amnesia, nervous breakdowns, bigamy, adoptions, divorce, kidnapping, evil twins, seduction, catfights and, of course, shoulder pads!

Television in the 1980s gave birth to a new guilty pleasure – the nighttime soap operas – Dallas, Knots Landing, Falcon Crest, Hotel, and of course, Dynasty. Long before Taraji P. Henson’s ‘Cookie’ was bitch-slapping her way through the hit show Empire and delivering her meme-worthy one-liners, there was Alexis [Joan Collins] and Krystle Carrington [Linda Evans] wrestling around in a lily pond in 80s couture and providing young gays everywhere with a graduate course in shade.

Dynasty aired on ABC from January 12, 1981 to May 11, 1989. The series, created by Richard and Esther Shapiro and produced by Aaron Spelling, revolves around the Carringtons, a wealthy family residing in Denver, Colorado. Dynasty stars John Forsythe as oil magnate Blake Carrington, Linda Evans as his new wife Krystle, and later Joan Collins as his former wife, Alexis.

Dynasty was conceived as ABC’s competitor to CBS’s prime time series Dallas. Ratings for the show’s first season were unimpressive, but a revamp for the second season that included the arrival of Collins as scheming Alexis saw ratings enter the top 20. By the fall of 1982, it was a top 10 show, and by the spring of 1985, it was the #1 show in the country.

In the first episode of the second season of Dynasty, titled ‘Enter Alexis’, the mysterious witness removes her sunglasses to reveal British actress Joan Collins as a new arrival to the series.  Collins’s Alexis Carrington blazed a trail across the show and its story lines; the additions of Collins and the “formidable writing team” of Eileen and Robert Mason Pollock are generally credited with Dynasty’s subsequent rise in the Nielsen ratings. The Pollocks “soft-pedaled the business angle” of the show and “bombarded viewers with every soap opera staple in the book, presented at such a fast clip that a new tragedy seemed to befall the Carrington family every five minutes.”

In a brand new campy, laugh out loud production that would make Zsa Zsa Gabor stand up and cheer, San Francisco’s writer/director/producer extraordinaire D’arcy Drollinger premiers BITCH SLAP!, an original show that centers around former model Diana Midnight and her fashion empire, as she struggles to maintain power and desperately keep control of her prize possession… the patent for shoulder pads.

Drollinger’s send-up of the 80’s television soap opera and telenovela in this high-camp celebration of melodrama with nods to Dynasty, Days of Our Lives, María la del Barrio, Jackie Collins and more features a star-studded cast of San Francisco Drag Luminaries: D’Arcy Drollinger, Matthew Martin, Katya Smirnoff-Skyy, Nancy French, Steven LeMay, Jef Valentine & Chrissy Fields; along with the hilarious Leigh Crow, Adam Roy, Manuel Caneri and Sergio Lobito as the smoldering leading men, BITCH SLAP! opens on August 10th through September 9th at Oasis.

D’arcy produces one original show each year, and this year it’s BITCH SLAP! I sat down with D’arcy between rehearsals to sip some Oasis champagne get the inside scoop on this new show.

What inspired you to tackle the 80s nighttime soap genre? I knew I wanted to spoof an old TV show. Initially I wanted to spoof Dynasty. In fact, I was thinking about calling it ‘Die Nasty’. [Laughs]

[Laughing] That’s really good! Wait, what about ‘THOT’s Landing’?! [Laughs] Yes! [Laughing] I felt like the idea of spoofing that genre is in the zeitgeist at the moment. I mean, Susan Lucci is in that new insurance commercial and it’s hilarious. Anyway, instead of tackling one show, I thought we should go after the entire genre of nighttime soaps – Dynasty, Dallas, Knots Landing and even the telenovela. [Laughs]

Were you a fan of those shows as a kid? Honestly, I didn’t watch a lot of Dynasty. I was a little too young in 1981. It seemed like such a grown-up show for me as a kid, but I’ve become a fan as an adult watching the old episodes on Amazon Prime. I absolutely fell in love with it all over again while writing this show. It’s so much more outrageous that I remember it being! [Laughs] Everyone is falling down the stairs, and even Krystle Carrington had an evil twin for like six episodes! Seriously?! It’s so over the top and campy and unbelievable.

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So I guess this is a wealthy family with a lot of infighting over oil? Actually, instead of fighting over oil like the do in Dynasty and Dallas, we’re fighting over the patent for shoulder pads. [Laughs] We’ve exaggerated the shoulder pads to such a degree that there is one scene that when my husband tries to kiss me, he can’t get around the shoulder pad. The whole thing feels very Carol Burnett’y. [Laughs]

You love your slapstick comedy though! I do! [Laughs] I seem to have that in most of the shows I write. It definitely has some of slapstick fun like ‘Shit and Champagne’ but in spoofing the nighttime melodrama, it all had to be written as if we are taking it very seriously. I did call out on Facebook asking for people’s favorite lines and scenes from 80s soap operas and I got over 400 responses. It’s an amazing thread that is simply hysterical to read. There is so much material, I could write ten shows! [Laughs]

Of course, you must have catfights if you’re spoofing Dynasty and Dallas? Absolutely! The genre is all about the catfights and throwing drinks and tons of slaps. We actually looked it up and there is no record for the number of slaps in a play so we’ve applied to the Guinness Book of World Records. [Laughs] Since there isn’t one, we should surely get it.

OMG! How many slaps are in the show?! I think we have like more than 80 slaps and at least a half dozen catfights.

Wow. That’s a pretty big undertaking. We do a lot of video interaction to make it possible.

It seems like a technical show. Well, it’s low-tech funny for sure. [Laughs] I feel terrible for my tech people. Just the amount of called cues is enormous. All the light changes.

Maybe the real show is happening in the technical both? It is! We have 13 video elements where we interact with the screen. People exit the screen and come on the stage and continue the dialogue. All the stuff we couldn’t do on stage every night, like fight in a lily pond, we could do that on video once and then interact with the footage each night. It was a smart way to take this production really over the top.

You’ve put together an all-star cast. This is a lot of people on a small stage. Not to mention the costumes. For a show like this, you really have to pull out the sequined 80s gowns. How many costume changes? The costumes are genius! I have to admit that I had an obsession over the years with 80s dresses — so I had a big wardrobe to bring to the table. There are eleven characters and about seven costume changes each. I would guess that we have close to 75 costume changes in all.

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I think the story itself is not the most important part of the production. As long as the queens are in shoulder pads and everyone is cat fighting, that’s really all that matters. [Laughs] I mean, I string a ridiculous plot together that has all the trappings of a soap opera – amnesia, evil twins, kidnapping, etc.  There are so many secrets that are revealed.

Spoofing all of that in 90 minutes is a lot of work!  My poor cast! <Laughs> Every day I was giving them more pages to the script as I was writing it. It was like a fucking Woody Allen movie. [Laughs]

I get the feeling that the script is evolving even as we speak? To put it lightly! [Laughs] It’s a crazy undertaking and the fact that I am finishing the script a few days before we open is really a testament to working with great people. When you work with funny, creative people – you really don’t have to do much. They are able to bring a life to these characters that is all their own. In fact, some of the lines they adlib find a home in script because they are so fucking funny we just have to use them. The cast is hilarious and collaborating with them gives me so much confidence.

Nancy French is back, just after finishing her run of Debbie Does Dallas. Nancy is brilliant in everything she does. French plays a man and a woman and there are points where she has less than 20 seconds to change back and forth. It’s literally priest to maid, priest to maid, priest to maid until she’s ready to pass out. [Laughs]

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I also really love Matthew. I’m a big fan of his. Matthew plays my mother. But, to be fair, he tells everyone he is often mistaken for my younger sister. [Laughs]

What about your character, Diana Midnight? Is she the Alexis of the show? Are you the bitch? That was a hard decision for me! Being the heroine I feel like couldn’t be evil all the time… but if I had an evil twin… then maybe SHE could be the bitch! [Laughs]

Pretty sneaky, Ms. Drollinger. Pretty sneaky indeed. By the way, this champagne is burnt. Is it?

The champagne was obviously frozen in the bottle at some point. If the champagne is too burnt for your taste, don’t drink it. The caviar I trust is not burned.

I really wouldn’t know. This is Osetrova. I prefer Petrossian Beluga. Well. You said this wasn’t going to be a social evening. So. Whatever this was. I enjoyed myself… thoroughly.

[We both put on our full length white fur coats and leave, giving side eye the entire time]


Bitch Slap! is now playing at Oasis through September 9th!  Don’t miss this show!

Adultery, blackmail, confessions, amnesia, nervous breakdowns, bigamy, adoptions, divorce, Kidnapped babies, evil twins, seduction, catfights & shoulder pads! D’Arcy Drollinger’s send-up of the 80’s television soap-opera and telenovela in this high-camp exploration of melodrama.  With nods to Dynasty, Days of Our Lives, María la del Barrio, Jackie Collins and more, Bitch Slap centers around Diana Midnight, and her fashion empire, as she struggles to maintain power and desperately keep control of her prize possession…the patent for shoulder pads.

Starring: MANUEL CANERI, LEIGH CROW, D’ARCY DROLLINGER, CRISSY FIELDS, NANCY FRENCH, STEVEN LEMAY, SERGIO LOBITO, MATTHEW MARTIN, ADAM ROY, KATYA SMIRNOFF-SKYY & JEF VALENTINE

Get Tickets at online now at SfOasis.com!

 

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