Anna Chlumsky and Kristen Johnston
in So Help Me God!
(© Richard Termine)
Anna Chlumsky and Kristen Johnston
in So Help Me God!
(© Richard Termine)
One of the many victims of the stock market crash of 1929 was the Broadway-bound production of a backstage comedy by Maurine Dallas Watkins (who had earlier written the hit 1926 play Chicago) that never made it to New York. Well, better later than never. The Mint Theater, which has so often in the past discovered lost theatrical gems, has outdone itself by finally producing So Help Me God!, now at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, starring the hilarious Kristen Johnston and directed by Jonathan Bank. The result is a backstage comedy with so much bite you can almost see the blood.

The story revolves around Lily Darnley (Johnston) a diva so outlandishly manipulative, demanding, and self-absorbed that she makes a contemporary bad girl like TV's Erica Kane look like a Sunday school student. She has no less than four actors fired, forces a total re-write of the play within the play in which she stars, sleeps with at least two actors in the cast, and sends the entire cast out of the rehearsal hall and into the rain just so that she may speak privately on the phone. And we love it all! She's a comic monster who manages in her monstrosity to be sublimely -- even ferociously -- alive.

One of the reasons that Lily can get away with this kind of behavior and not have the audience turn on her is that most of the other characters in the play are, in their own smaller ways, just as self-absorbed and manipulative as she is. It turns out that her biggest nemesis is a young girl named Kerry (Anna Chlumsky) who comes to New York straight out of school and without any professional experience. Lily has her hired precisely because she believes Kerry will pose no threat -- and also because she's a brunette. (The ingénue Lily got rid of to make the role available was, like Lily, a blonde.) When it turns out that Kerry is a great young actress and is stealing some of Lily's thunder, the game is on.

Many of the actors in the large cast also get their moments to shine, among them Kevin O'Donnell, Allen Lewis Rickman, Matthew Waterson, and especially Catherine Curtin, who delivers a grand comic performance at the beginning of the play. Sadly, she is never allowed to flourish again after Lily's grand entrance; but, luckily, there are more than enough laughs on Johnston's part to make up for it.