When Charles Busch brought his new cabaret act to Feinstein’s last month, it was the first time he’d performed in San Francisco since the early ’90s. But in some ways it’s as if the flamboyant drag diva has never left the place where his career got its start in 1983. His breakthrough first play “Vampire Lesbians of Sodom” was revived in April by Virago Theatre Company. Another of his best-known works, “Die, Mommie, Die!” — which he later adapted for the 2003 film of the same name — opened Saturday at New Conservatory Theatre Center in a fitful but ever-more entertaining production.

It’s a classic Busch camp satire/lampoon of the film genre sometimes called grande dame guignol, teeming with caustic one-liners and comically unsavory activities. Onstage, there’s murder, adultery, drugs, a kind of semi-consensual rape, more murder, hints of incest, Hollywood liberal hypocrisy and more than a touch of religious fanaticism. Lurking offstage are the perils of the Mob, the Communist Menace and the possibility of Richard Nixon becoming president (the story is set in the 1960s).

Director F. Allen Sawyer’s production is pretty funny already, particularly when J. Conrad Frank (also known as Countess Katya Smirnoff-Skyy) rules the stage in the role originated (onstage and in film) by Busch. It’ll probably get funnier as other cast members warm to their roles during the run. As seen at Friday’s final preview, it wasn’t until the first murder — just before intermission — that the show hit its stride. But it kept getting funnier after that.

Frank, in a succession of ever-more-fabulous gowns, is Angela Arden, a washed-up pop singer unhappily married to successful-but-perhaps-fading Hollywood producer Sol Sussman (Joe Wicht, ever-more-cagily channeling a comically amoral Fred Mertz). Angela wants out. As played by the very poised and always posing Frank — forever gliding a bit above and beyond Angela’s carefully observed image — she’s a self-conscious creation capable of just about anything to get her way, whether that means trying to reboot her career, running off with her current gigolo, the tennis instructor Tony (Justin Liszanckie), or taking advantage of her massively constipated husband’s ill health.

There are a few factors standing in Angela’s way of doing away with Sol, however — namely, their angry teen daughter Edith (Ali Haas), with her near-lustful daddy-fixation; their mentally and emotionally unstable, gay, college-age son Lance (Devin S. O’Brien); and their judgmental maid Bootsie (Marie O’Donnell), who also has a thing for Sol. Then there’s the matter of Tony’s inquisitiveness and Angela’s barely contained freak-outs whenever the long-ago death of her twin sister is mentioned. Not to mention Tony’s penchant for seduction and how that affects Edith — and Lance.

Liszanckie is never quite believable as either a failed actor or sexual magnet, but his seduction scene with Haas is hilarious. Haas comes on a bit too strong and artificial at first, but warms to her role and sharpens her comic timing, as does O’Brien, as the play progresses. O’Donnell’s Bootsie never quite takes shape as a character except in her religious harangues, though she has a terrific death scene.

What shines best in “Die” is the keen comic edge of Busch’s writing and its facility as a vehicle for Frank’s diva-in-extremis performance. The showdowns between Frank and Wicht are some of the best moments in the show. But where it truly comes into its own is an LSD trip in which Frank has to confront Frank in a comically intense bifurcated performance that brings the action to a well-earned climax. And, no, we won’t tell you what that’s about. For that, you’ll just have to see the play.

Robert Hurwitt is the San Francisco Chronicle’s theater critic. E-mail: [email protected] Twitter: @RobertHurwitt

POLITE APPLAUSEDie, Mommie, Die! Comedy. By Charles Busch. Directed by F. Allen Sawyer. Through Nov. 2. New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness Ave., S.F. Two hours. $25-$45. (415) 861-8972. www.nctcsf.org.