Seat Filler: NYC Theater Guide for December 2010
Aside from the media’s bashing of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, which finally began previews November 28, this past month has been defined by premature Broadway closings and closing notices due to weak ticket sales. Unfortunately, many of those pink-slipped plays were headlined by openly gay actors. Originally scheduled to run through January 2, a revival of A Life in the Theatre, which starred T.R. Knight, closed November 28. Originally scheduled to run until February 12, La Bête, which stars David Hyde Pierce, will now end January 9. Poor Elling, which starred Denis O’Hare, also closed November 28 — after only nine regular performances! Jeez, was it something we said?
So why did Elling close so abruptly? A better question might ask what it was doing at Broadway’s Barrymore Theatre to begin with. Imagine The Odd Couple Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest on a cheap Ikea bedroom set constructed by out scenic designer Scott Pask and you might get an inkling of Elling. OK, Ikea’s Swedish, but I know nothing about Norway except for the popular Norwegian novels, movies, and plays upon which Elling was based. Jennifer Coolidge spread her signature mannerisms over four thankless roles, distinguished mainly by different wigs, but the rocky bromance between Denis O’Hare’s quirky agoraphobe and Brendan Fraser’s dim oaf was this plodding comedy’s saving grace — along with the eye-opening scene in which they swapped dirty undies on stage. Too bad that Fraser’s let himself go since his Gods and Monsters heyday.
Originally set to run through December 30 at New World Stages, Devil Boys From Beyond, a 2009 FringeNYC hit, closed December 4 due to poor attendance. It’s an infernal shame too, because Buddy Thomas’s fiercely campy all-male spoof of 1950s sci-fi B movies was a heavenly riot, particularly for fans of the drag genre send-ups perfected by Charles Busch and Charles Ludlam. Paul Pecorino and Chris Dell’Armo starred as rival newspaper reporters out to scoop the story when super-hot aliens from a gay planet — actor-models Jeff Riberdy and Jacques Mitchell — invade Lizard Lick, Fla., to impregnate the elderly townswomen and propagate their race. Adding maturity and class to the production were Andy Halliday, longtime member of Busch’s Theater-in-Limbo, and Everett Quinton, longtime member of Ludlam’s Ridiculous Theatre Company.
It just wouldn’t be the holidays without Jackie Hoffman’s annual solo show at Joe’s Pub. Playing Monday nights through January 17, her sixth original rant with music at the downtown venue, Jackie Five-Oh! A Celebration of Jackie Hoffman’s First 50th Birthday, focuses on Hoffman’s uncelebrated stint as Grandma in the critically maligned Broadway musical The Addams Family. I’ve heard actors mock their costars and share juicy horror stories about their experiences on a project, but never while that show is still running! The New York Jewess also kvetches about her hypochondria, her quest to star in a Holocaust movie, and the time she lost her SAG benefits after getting replaced by Queen Latifah in What Happens in Vegas. It’s very easy to laugh, but it’s hard to pity her once you meet her handsome husband, trumpeter Steve Smith.
I’ve heard about Pam Ann for years, but I’ve only just joined her mile-high fan club. Alter ego of Australian comedian Caroline Reid, one of the world’s most popular female female impersonators, Pam took her latest solo show, Pam Ann: High Alert, for a spin during Thanksgiving week at Joe’s Pub. A bittersweet tribute to a bygone era of glamorous air travel, her first-class act appealed directly to the sensibilities of her target audience: gay men, flight attendants, and gay male flight attendants. But too much class isn’t funny, so an air hostess’s habits of cock-sucking and coke-snorting are go-to gags. Her shtick could get old for infrequent fliers, so it’s a good thing there’s always something new in the news about air travel to keep her show fresh. TSA pat-downs, for example, gave Pam an excuse to molest a couple cuties from the crowd for her audience’s pleasure.
Step aside, Frosty, because a new holiday icon has come to life in Bradford Scobie’s Moisty the Snowman Saves Christmas, which melted December 11 at Dixon Place. There must’ve been some magic in that old traffic cone, because when two hipsters ironically placed it on their dirty snowman’s head, Moisty began to mince around with wickedly clever malaprops — he sings “Phylicia Rashad” to the tune of “Feliz Navidad” — and a major Joe Jonas crush. As Moisty, Scobie gave the gift of comic genius. Cabaret great Steve Hayes of Trick fame was touching as Tranny Claus, a newly transitioned Santa in need of a makeover. Deanna Glover was also a standout as Jaggedy Ann, a toxic lesbian doll from the Island of Recalled Toys. Drag king Murray Hill — whose annual holiday show, A Murray Little Christmas, returns December 18 at Le Poisson Rouge — acted as narrator.
If you’re familiar with Sordid Lives, you already know that creator Del Shores is one helluva storyteller. You might not know, however, that he’s an impressive raconteur without the mask of his many colorful Southern characters. In Del Shores: Sordid Confessions, a nationally toured solo act that made a recent stop at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, Shores makes some hilariously politically incorrect everyman observations about Sarah Palin and homeless people, but it’s his insider-y Hollywood anecdotes that really have you howling. You may have to wait for his next show to get a deeper look into his personal journey — Shores has two children from his ex-wife and is now married to a younger man, performer Jason Dottley — but for now you’ll happily hiss at a rant about an ungrateful Randy Harrison from Queer as Folk, on which Shores was a writer.
For five years, Mimi Imfurst has made her annual Christmas show — in which she plays the Blessed Virgin as a bawdy lounge singer — an unmissable holiday tradition. The RuPaul’s Drag Race season 3 contestant continues to prove herself a confident comedic actress as a delusional Cher impersonator in Zach Carey’s satisfying Burlesque spoof, Boylesque. Candi Shell plays Chris Tina, a super-hung gay boy who becomes the star of a drag club in Akron, Ohio. Matthew Brown takes on her closeted bartender roomie, Jake Lemmenes out-gays Stanley Tucci, and Blackie O tackles a Nikki-Coco amalgam named Spearmint Twizzler. Ideally, you’d want to see the movie first to catch the many clever in-jokes, but the script still scores when it veers from its inspiration source. Boylesque camps up the Laurie Beechman Theatre through December 17.
Justin Bond, who has called himself a “trans-fabulous performance-activist,” is on to something special with Christmas Spells, his second annual holiday celebration at Abrons Arts Center through December 18. Or he might just be on something, which would explain his marvelously motley variety show’s poor pacing and lack of polish, particularly during a raunchy playlet — adapted from Kate Bornstein’s short story “Dixie Belle” — in which Bond, aided by an outrageous gender-fuck dance troupe called the Pixie Harlots, narrates the adventures of Huck Finn as a trans hooker in a New Orleans brothel. But even if Bond flubs lyrics to a few holiday standards, he knows how to spin a sordid tale and sell a song. Croons Bond in his standout original “Christmas Spells,” “Could baby Jesus in his manger foresee the hate sprung from that night?”
Hot on the tail of his absurdist gay fable MilkMilkLemonade, out playwright Joshua Conkel teams with Megan Hill on Lonesome Winter, a blissfully bleak mini-masterpiece of magical realism that runs through December 19 at Under St. Marks. Briskly directed by Meg Sturiano, the brilliant Hill also stars as suicidal hoarder Winter Lipschitz, and Conkel is hilarious as Winter’s only friend and worst enemy, a vicious queen of a jellicle feline named Sparkles. But don’t let the talking puss or an angelic life coach fool you, because this comedy gets uncomfortably dark, as when Winter keeps begging her stoner coworker Bobby — a splendid Nick Lewis — to like her, even after he admits that he’s gay. Yet despite Winter’s grotesque awkwardness, you root for her until the bitter end. In a nutshell, I laughed, I cried, it was better than Cats.
One of the NEA Four, the performance artists whose proposed grants were denied by the National Endowment of the Arts in 1990, Tim Miller brought his Lay of the Land tour to New York for a brief run that ended December 11 at P.S. 122, which he cofounded in 1980. In this salty solo meditation on gay marriage, Miller toggled focus between a Los Angeles protest, his childhood, his travels, erotic biblical images, and an extended metaphor about that place where the sun don’t shine. Panting, pacing, raving, rambling, and lamenting the fact that his Australian partner doesn’t have access to the immigration rights of straight couples, he tied it all together like a beautiful bow on a letter bomb. NEA Four member Holly Hughes also chews on marriage equality in Let Them Eat Cake, an interactive piece at Dixon Place through December 18.
The Last Castrato, a new melodrama by Guy Fredrick Glass that ran through December 4 at the Connelly Theatre, was set in the Vatican during the early 1900s, a time when the castrati, once superstars, began to disappear due to the new pope’s ban on castration to preserve the soprano voices of prepubescent boys. Jacob Pinion starred as the famous Alessandro Moreschi, the only castrato to record his voice, and Doug Kreeger played Cesari, a cloying gay castrato — think Kurt on Glee — who threw himself at the sexually confused Moreschi and got banished, which led to a scenery-chewing suicide. Ironically, under the direction of John Henry Davis, The Last Castrato was a tonal disaster. But with a drag cast and minor script tweaks that embrace the humor, Glass could turn it into a campy period spoof to rival Charles Busch’s The Divine Sister.
LCT3’s gorgeous production of The Coward, an inspired new play by Nick Jones that ended December 4 at the Duke on 42nd Street, shot up an 18th-century period piece with SNL sensibility and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson’s foulmouthed modern flair. Armed with a quivering falsetto, Jeremy Strong starred as Lucidus, a shy English nobleman whose father’s obsession with manliness led to the dueling deaths of his brothers. When forced to duel himself, Lucidus hired a barroom tough — who thinks he’s being paid for gay sex — to fight in his stead. Though naturalist director Sam Gold restrained the cast from comic greatness, Stephen Ellis and Steven Boyer shone as Lucidus’s foppish pie-tasting friends, while Kristen Schaal and Jarlath Conroy stole the show as his vacuous love interest and a manservant doubtful of Lucidus’s heterosexuality.
Like White Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas in years past, it’s beginning to look a lot like Elf, which is hung with care at the Hirschfeld Theatre through January 2, will be regifted on Broadway for many seasons to come. This fitfully catchy musical is full of silly gags that only a child could appreciate — George Wendt’s Santa just loves his new iPad! — but this red-and-green groaner could be much worse. At least its source material, the 2003 Will Ferrell flick about an oversize North Pole elf looking for his real dad in New York, has a positive message for kids who may feel different. Better still, out director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw keeps it light and sparkly, and star Sebastian Arcelus must be commended for making the role of Buddy his own. Finally, look for out ensemble member Lee Wilkins as the Greenway Press office’s token gay!
Directed by Karen Kohlhaas, Atlantic Theater Company’s double bill of Harold Pinter’s The Collection and A Kind of Alaska, which runs through December 19 at Classic Stage Company, is a sparkling tribute to the late Nobel Prize-winning playwright. In Alaska, written in 1982, Lisa Emery is exquisite as a woman who awakens after 30 years in a comatose state. But I couldn’t get enough of Collection, a witty 1961 gem that drips with icy intrigue, tension, and sensuality. Darren Pettie, who plays gay in Mad Men, smugly stars as James, who accuses dandy Bill — Broken Hearts Club’s outstanding out actor Matt McGrath — of sleeping with his wife at a fashion convention. Bill flirtatiously plays along, though it’s pretty clear he’s an aging kept boy to Larry Bryggman’s irritable Harry. To use one of Bill’s words, their banter is simply scrumptious.
In John Guare’s exhausting epic A Free Man of Color, which plays Lincoln Center Theater’s Vivian Beaumont Theater through January 9, Angels in America’s Jeffrey Wright stars as Jacques Cornet, a flamboyant Don Juan in 1802 New Orleans who refuses to accept that white wigs and ostentatious garb have gone out of style. Race aside, his neighbors shun him in fear that their wives aren’t safe around his libido and large penis — which is said, among other euphemisms, to resemble a baby’s arm holding an apple — so he fakes a gunshot injury and pretends to be castrated. There’s a lot more historical stuff going on — and more than 40 characters! — but when I wasn’t bored, I felt overwhelmed and confused. Still, as directed by George C. Wolfe and gorgeously costumed by Ann Hould-Ward, it’s a feast for the eyes. If I were deaf or tripping, I would’ve loved it.
Colin Quinn left a bitter taste in my mouth with his awkwardly unfunny stint as a Weekend Update anchor on Saturday Night Life in the ’90s. But the 51-year-old comedian has finally earned my respect and admiration with Colin Quinn: Long Story Short, which has extended through February 5 at the Helen Hayes Theatre. Rife with smart ethnic jokes, Epcot Centric generalizations, and the kind of amusing observational humor for which the show’s director, Jerry Seinfeld, is famous, Quinn’s surprisingly clever stand-up act takes on the rise and fall of the world’s greatest civilizations — from Ancient Romans to Jersey Shore guidos — in 75 tight minutes. In one of the show’s most effective sequences, Quinn personifies the world’s current feuding nations as drunk patrons in a bar fight. If teachers had succeeded in making world history this entertaining, I might’ve learned something.
Controversial playwright-screenwriter Neil LaBute has explored homophobia and homoeroticism in works like Bash, In a Dark Dark House, Your Friends & Neighbors, and In the Company of Men. Now he takes a straight if subdued shot at religious faith in MCC Theater’s world premiere of The Break of Noon, which runs through December 22 at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. Californication’s David Duchovny makes a strong major stage debut as John Smith, an everyman who claims to have heard the voice of God during what’s described — in an opening monologue of graphic details — as the worst office shooting in American history. Is John God’s vessel or just an opportunistic prick? The answer might surprise you. Without Duchovny or Amanda Peet as his ex-wife and ex-mistress, this production will reopen February 2 at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles.
After the Revolution, Amy Herzog’s intelligent and powerful drama about a fractured family of leftist radicals in 1999, ended December 12 at Playwrights Horizons. Katharine Powell carried the show as Emma, a law school grad who finds out that her blacklisted grandfather — in whose memory she created a legal fund to fight social injustice — was, in fact, a Russian spy. Peter Friedman played Emma’s Marxist dad, whose dreams for a gay child came true when Emma’s sister — Meredith Holzman, in an impressive off-Broadway debut — dated a girl. Lois Smith, Sookie’s murdered Gran on True Blood, also starred as Emma’s dotty grandma, who admitted that she almost slept with a woman who enticed her with a large clitoris. She also argues that homosexuality is caused by sexual abuse: “I’m not saying all of them, but almost all of them.”
Last year the Civilians tackled Ted Haggard’s gay sex scandal in This Beautiful City. In their plucky In the Footprint: The Battle Over Atlantic Yards, which closed December 11 at the Irondale Center, the docu-theater troupe created an informative exposé — culled from interviews with angry protesters, bloggers, and city officials — on a controversial Brooklyn development project that’s displaced hundreds in favor of a new stadium for the New Jersey Nets. With pro-development players represented by basketballs and bulldozers, it’s easy to see on which side the company’s sympathies lay, but a small voice is given to those residents who were happy to take the buyout money and run. Written and directed by Steve Cosson, In the Footprint also features serviceable tunes by out composer Michael Friedman of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.
Finally, I’m not a big Donny and Marie Osmond fan — I don’t remember their variety shows and I don’t watch Dancing With the Stars — but gosh-darn it if those Mormon sibs don’t deliver one shamelessly entertaining evening in Donny & Marie: A Broadway Christmas, which jingles all the way to January 2 at the Marquis Theatre. This revised version of their Las Vegas spectacle, which may be the only show in New York where flash photography is encouraged, is an endlessly charming crowd-pleaser. Marie, who chokes up during an operatic tribute to her late son, shows impressive vocal versatility in a variety of diva styles. Donny, who laughs it off when getting winded beside his younger backup dancers, relives his Bieber-haired beginnings in one of many classic video clips. It’s a little bit cheesy, it’s a little bit rockin’ olds, but it’s also a whole lot of wonderful.