BY Brandon Voss
October 15 2009 10:15 AM ET
Body Awareness, Annie Baker’s off-Broadway debut last summer, centered on a middle-aged lesbian couple raising a child with Asperger’s syndrome in small-town Vermont. Baker returns to Vermont as the setting for her latest play, Circle Mirror Transformation, which calls Playwrights Horizons home through November 1. In what might be the most flawlessly acted and cleverly crafted play I’ve seen so far this season, a kooky drama teacher, her husband, and three strangers -- an enchanting failed New York actress, a desperate divorcé, and an awkward 16-year-old girl with family problems -- bond and butt heads through a series of touchy-feely theater exercises and role-playing games during a six-week community center performance workshop. If you’ve ever taken a bullshit beginner’s acting class, you’ll roll with laughter before this motley crew rips your heart out.
In The Retributionists (above), a drama by Daniel Goldfarb that could be called off-Broadway’s answer to Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, two male and two female Jewish freedom fighters plot murderous revenge against German war criminals in 1946. Inspired by actual events, they ultimately sicken but fail to kill more than 2,000 prisoners by poisoning bread with arsenic, which isn’t nearly as exciting as Brad Pitt scalping heads. In fact, the play only grabbed my attention when a passionate lesbian kiss revealed that while the women had hidden in the woods with one of the men during the Holocaust, the trio shared a sexual relationship that could be called off-Broadway’s answer to the song “3” by Britney Spears. Helmed by out director Leigh Silverman, the poorly reviewed production ended its brief run at Playwrights Horizons on September 27.
Girl-on-girl action is replaced by horny hermaphroditic high jinks in The Diary of Anne Frankenstein (above), which is also set in Europe shortly after WWII. In the tradition of Charles Busch and Charles Ludlam, Ilya Sapiroe’s low-budget genre spoof tells the tale of a mad German scientist who attempts to attach the head of Hitler to the body of a stranded houseguest. The Rocky Horror-ible musical, which runs through November 8 at the 13th Street Rep, isn’t nearly as offensive or as funny as you might hope, but New York drag star Mimi Imfurst simply kills it as Anne, who must hide in the attic after the scientist’s experiment to create a perfect female Aryan specimen goes wrong and gives her a penis. Looking like a reject from a European touring production of Beauty and the Beast, drag legend Lavinia Co-Op also scares up some laughs as Anne’s leather-bound diary.
A Speedo-wearing bartender in the lobby helped prepare me for the gratuitous full-frontal nudity and shameless political incorrectness in The Hole (above), a campy musical inspired by Manhattan’s short-lived East Village gay nightclub of the same name. Another red flag? The show, which ended its brief run at the Theatre at St. Clement's on September 20, was copresented by the Chelsea gay nightspot G Lounge, where book writer and star Joey Murray has tended bar for years. Murray stretches himself as an effeminate young actor who hits the infamously debauched club with a lesbian prostitute, her adult-sized African-American newborn “Baby Gaga,” her überbutch DJ girlfriend, a drag queen named “Queen LaQueefa,” a sexually confused underage jock, and many other colorful characters. Recording artist and “Out 100” honoree Ari Gold does double duty as a coat-check guy with Tourette’s syndrome and a very Jewish God after half the cast dies. Like Anne Frankenstein, it sounds funnier on paper than it played onstage, but Rob Baumgartner’s and Heidi Heilig’s songs (like the lesbian love anthem “One Heart, One Bitch”) aren’t half bad. And a mazel to Murray, a sister who’s doing it for himself.
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