Seat Filler: NYC Theater Guide for July 2010
Before New York heats up with lengthier runs of higher-profile productions in the fall, the summer theater scene thrives with quick queer offerings off- and off-off-Broadway. Though a few substantial gay-friendly runs tickled me pink, June was once again peppered with special gay pride benefits like Broadway Bares and other cheeky LGBT celebrations. And as I always say, nothing makes me prouder to be a gay theatergoer than steamy one-night stands and very brief engagements.
A.R. Gurney created complex gay characters in lesser works like Far East, The Old Boy, and Big Bill, but the prolific playwright outdoes himself in The Grand Manner, which stars Kate Burton as “First Lady of the American Stage” Katharine Cornell; Brenda Wehle as her assistant-lover, Gertrude Macy; and Boyd Gaines as her gay director-husband, Guthrie McClintic. The play, which runs through August 1 at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, is inspired by Gurney’s backstage meeting with Cornell after a 1948 Broadway performance of Antony and Cleopatra, a brief encounter we see before Gurney, played by Yank!’s Bobby Steggart, imagines a more meaningful version in which Cornell declares herself a lesbian and her flirty husband “gay as a goose” — a frankness only fitting for a grand theatrical fantasy.
Ex-public relations guru Dan Klores spent the last decade making celebrated documentaries like Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story, the tale of a gay boxer. Now he’s trying on a playwright’s hat with the world premiere of Little Doc, a contrived little drama set in 1970s Brooklyn, which runs through July 18 at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre. Klores fails to find anything new or exciting in the stock story of four buddies who become low-rung drug dealers and users. Who stole money from the boss? How harsh will the consequences be? Why should we care? Hunky Adam Driver, who played a closeted bully in Slipping, stars as Ric, a golden boy gone astray. Tobias Segal plays Billy, a sweet gay kid who crushes on Ric, endures mild teasing for being a “cocksucker,” and spends most of the show crawling around on the floor in an incoherent stupor.
Marcus Gardley’s On the Levee, an ambitious LCT3 drama that dries up July 10 at the Duke, revisits the Mississippi flood of 1927, which, according to program notes, was the worst natural disaster before Katrina. The soul of this sprawling story, which recalls HBO’s Treme, emotionally swells around a white cotton farmer, an African-American bootblack, and their sons. Seth Numrich, a hot young talent who played gay in Slipping and a flirty object of gay affection in the Los Angeles production of The History Boys, plays a puppyish poet who secretly fantasizes about flirtations and desperate dances with a handsome bachelor played by Stephen Plunkett. The evening is elevated to higher ground by bluesy songs from Todd Almond, the out performer-composer who recently adapted Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend into a gay love story.
Founded in 1991 by Joe Marshall, the Alternative Theatre Company is dedicated to the production of low-budget LGBT plays like The Gayest Christmas Pageant Ever! Since the company relocated from Arizona to New York in 2009, its unofficial mission has been to give fresh-off-the-bus actors a first break that they might someday regret having on their résumés. Currently playing late-night shows at the Bleecker Street Theatre, Marshall’s latest twinkfest, A Night in Vegas, is a lightweight comedy made up of six flamingly farcical vignettes that each unfold in the same tacky hotel room. At least the play, which features horny bellhops, hustlers, and handicapped gays, makes good on its rainbow-colored poster’s warning-promise of male nudity. Whether or not you’ll be impressed or titillated is another question entirely.
Stars of stage and screen stood together June 14 at the Angel Orensanz Center for Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays, a collection of vignettes about marriage equality by respected playwrights like Moisés Kaufman and Paul Rudnick. The entertaining but uneven event — which benefited Human Rights Campaign, Marriage Equality New York, and New York Theater Workshop — featured out actors Dan Butler, Kevin Chamberlin, Randy Harrison, Christopher Sieber, and B.D. Wong in brief gems like Doug Wright’s “On Facebook,” a gay marriage debate adapted from an actual Facebook thread. Highlights included “Outlaw Wedding,” Kathy Najimy’s monologue about a suburban aunt’s thoughts on her gay nephew’s nuptials, and Neil LaBute’s cautionary tragicomedy “Strange Fruit,” which made Matthew Broderick say, “I love cock.”
Whether you’re a serious show queen or an average perv, chances are you’ve already ogled pictures online from Broadway Bares XX: Strip-opoly. But you might not know that the June 20 two-show Monopoly-themed burlesque benefit at Roseland Ballroom, which featured 216 of New York’s hottest chorus boys and girls, raised $1,015,985 for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, the first time the $1 million mark was reached since Jerry Mitchell created the event in 1992. And in case you’ve been too busy drooling over breakout beefcake like Charlie Williams, Joshua Buscher, Matthew Skrincosky, and a Jersey Shore spoof with a surplus of situations, I wanted to share my favorite G-rated shot of the night — yep, that’s Vanessa Williams and Kristin Chenoweth singin’ and swingin’ in the opening number.
As her hit documentary, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, continues to expand into theaters nationwide, Miss Rivers took the stage at the Gramercy Theatre for two shows June 24 to commemorate gay pride weekend. Introduced by the Lavender Light Gospel Choir, her outrageous stand-up set, which kicked off a string of appearances July 7 through August 19 at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, was more aggressively cantankerous than ever. Rivers began by playfully banishing practically everyone — the handicapped, the elderly, people who like kids, etc. — from the venue. It seemed that only gay fans were welcome, mere hours after she’d shared those controversial views on the Hollywood closet with The Advocate. Rivers did repeat a few stale jokes in the second show, but we forgave her because it was hot, late, and, well, she’s 77.
The New York Neo-Futurists, a kooky collective of writer-performer-directors with a sister troupe in Chicago, have done Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, 30 short plays in one hour, Friday and Saturday nights at the Kraine Theater since 2004. I’d never seen it because I’m not a crunchy NYU stoner, but I put my preconceptions aside to check out the group’s fourth annual gay pride edition, Too Much Pride Makes the Baby Go Gay: 30 Gay Plays in 60 Straight Minutes, which benefited LGBTQ advocacy in Uganda on June 25 and 26. Of the queerest shorts culled from their original repertoire, I laughed at dance breaks, sock puppets, and a pickle in Joey Rizzolo’s Superman undies, but I was also surprisingly moved by very personal skits from out ensemble members Christopher Borg and Dan McCoy.
In creator Eugene Pack’s long-running hit Celebrity Autobiography: In Their Own Words, which regularly plays uptown at the Triad, a rotating roster of cool celebrities reads from the deliciously ditzy memoirs of more self-important stars. Joining regulars like Kristen Johnston and Rachel Dratch for the show’s extra-queer gay pride edition June 26 at the Gramercy Theatre, Bruce Vilanch channeled Star Jones, and John Cameron Mitchell somehow took on Touch Me: The Poems of Suzanne Somers with a straight face. Mario Cantone and B.D. Wong, who should have their own show on Bravo, teamed to relive a fling between Geraldo Rivera and Liza Minnelli as told in Rivera’s Exposing Myself. Cheyenne Jackson, whose tight jeans also inspired gay pride in the crowd, brought to life a hilarious passage from Don’t Hassel the Hoff.
Hot and hot-messy off her triumphant turn in Whatever Happened to Busty Jane? Los Angeles-based drag diva Jackie Beat returned to New York City for gay pride with her latest solo show, Jackie Beat: In 3-D! June 25 and 26 at the Gramercy Theatre. Rocking an exceptionally gaudy rainbow-colored frock for the occasion, Beat, whose powerful voice was in top form, once again blew me away with her cleverly irreverent pop song parodies. Though I was too drunk to retain a lot of details and much too busy laughing to jot anything down, I’m pretty sure she tweaked “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” to celebrate ’70s hankie code and converted Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” into inches of length and girth. But no one present will soon forget “Homosexuals,” her attack on too easily enchanted Lady Gaga fans, set to the tune of “Alejandro.”
Our Hit Parade, a strangely sublime monthly showcase of 10 reinterpretations of current top-40 hits, also held a special pride edition (and World Cup edition and Michael Jackson’s death anniversary edition) on June 30 at Joe’s Pub. Bodacious belter Bridget Everett, gay Kiki & Herb alum Kenny Mellman, and bisexual performance artist Neal Medlyn were joined by special guests like Logo’s Cole Escola and Lea DeLaria, who put a goosebump-inducing spin on Train’s “Hey, Soul Sister.” Among the more surreal moments, Medlyn conducted a raw chicken cavity search while singing Drake’s “Find Your Love,” and Jack Ferver drank Diet Coke in his underwear, made out with audience members of both sexes, and beat his boyfriend with a rolled-up yoga mat while listening to Usher’s “OMG.” OMG, I loved this show!
A fixture on New York’s downtown cabaret scene since moving from Hawaii in 1989, Raven O achieved new fame as host of Cirque du Soleil's Zumanity in Las Vegas and Manhattan’s infamous burlesque club the Box. In Raven O: One Night With You, a compelling autobiographical solo act that ended its Tuesdays-only run at the Bleecker Street Theatre June 29, Raven took rapt audiences for a cool casino-loungey ride that would’ve made Frank Sinatra blush and Liza Minnelli relapse. Backed only by bass, he illustrated his colorful coming-of-age tale with jazzy, soulful interpretations of traditional tunes like “Rainy Days and Mondays” and “My Favorite Things” — an effectively simple story-song framework that contributed a comforting contrast to his androgynous badass appearance and disturbing history of drug abuse.
Stephen Belber, who cocreated The Laramie Project (and wrote a juicy gay character for Frank Langella in Broadway’s Match), revisited gay hate crime in Dusk Rings a Bell, a terrific two-person dramedy that resounded until June 26 at Atlantic Stage 2. Private Practice’s Kate Walsh starred as Molly, a verbose communications exec who returns to her old summer family home on the Delaware shore and reconnects with Ray, a townie with whom she shared her first kiss, and learns he spent 10 years in prison for his part in the death of a gay vacationer. One of his friends actually threw the punches and hurled the gay insults, but Ray “didn’t do enough to stop it.” Paul Sparks was quietly heartbreaking as Ray, a simple man still riddled with guilt and haunted by a vision of his own death at the hands of kids calling him “faggot.”
Actor-playwright Steve Swift has created an outrageously infectious character in Sister Myotis, the head deaconess of a deep-fried Southern megachurch. Already a YouTube sensation, Myotis made her New York debut with Sister Myotis’s Bible Camp, which met its maker July 4 at the Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex. Backed by Todd Berry and Jenny Odle Madden as oddball assistants Velma Needlemeyer and Ima Lone, Myotis held her audience captive as attendees of her annual Women’s Church Retreat lockdown in hopes of saving the “chronically mediocre.” Though the show was packed with clever one-liners, sight gags, malapropisms, mispronunciations, unintentional innuendos, and abundant queer appeal — trans superstar Amanda Lepore even makes a cameo on the overhead projector — this sis is best in small doses.