By Brandon Voss
Originally published on Advocate.com June 07 2010 12:15 PM ET
Because there have been no new Broadway openings since April 29, the Tony eligibility cutoff date for the 2009-10 theater season, I thought I’d spend most of my evenings in May catching up on my reading and Netflix. Well, I thought wrong. Apparently also taking advantage of the great white lull, New York’s off-Broadway scene was overflowing with quality if often short-lived offerings featuring gay themes, gay characters, and notable gay performers.
Like Tony and Tina’s Wedding married to the Jersey Shore gay porn spoof without the audience interaction and double penetration, Anthony Wilkinson’s lightweight yet lovable My Big Gay Italian Wedding is line-dancing down the aisle at St. Luke's Theatre. Because marriage equality isn’t the novelty it was when the original production premiered in 2003, the out playwright and star has spruced up the script about Brooklyn brooms and bitter exes with mixed results, but scenes with Anthony’s family — a dramatic Italian mother, a spotlight-hungry kid sis — are hilarious and heartwarming. As for bronzed star Reichen Lehmkuhl, who was filmed by Logo’s upcoming “gay housewives” show on opening night? He looks mighty fine in undies, and that’s all that really matters. Plus, a portion of ticket sales benefit Broadway Impact.
Gay theatergoers hoped that The Kid, which moved out of the Acorn Theatre May 29, might be the next Yank! or a musical comedy companion to Next Fall, but The Kid has some maturing to do before it’s a major success. Based on sex columnist Dan Savage’s memoir The Kid: What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided to Go Get Pregnant, the show’s likable enough, but Michael Zann’s funny book, which features gay mannies and lesbian moms, is stronger than Jack Lechner and Andy Monroe’s forgettable score, which often feels dated and cheesy. Last seen on his knees as Lord Farquaad in Shrek, cuddly star Christopher Sieber told The Advocate, “It’s not a gay story.” In other words, ignore the oral sex pantomimes, the leather-clad go-go boy in the chorus, and the many references to party drugs, vibrators, and sodomy. Hey, bring the kids!
American Pie alum Eddie Kaye Thomas, who played a gay grown-up Charlie Brown in off-Broadway’s Dog Sees God, goes gay again in the world premiere of Jack's Precious Moment, which ends June 13 at 59E59 Theaters. In out playwright Samuel D. Hunter's intensely dark comedy, a Christian family in Idaho seeks solace at the Precious Moments Chapel in Carthage, Mo., after son, brother, and husband Jack’s beheading by Iraqi insurgents, which was videotaped and released over the Internet. Thomas is awkwardly affecting as Jack’s twin, Bib, a nurse with “much bigger sins to deal with” than his “hard-ons for other guys.” A creepy life-size Precious Moment trots out three too many times, but the play’s flaws begin to fade when Bib meets Chuck, a flirtatious, lovably trashy gay carnival ride operator played to porcelain perfection by Lucas Papaelias.
Naked Angels, the celebrated theater company currently represented on Broadway with Next Fall, returns to its starry roots with This Wide Night, which runs through June 27 at Playwrights Horizons. Nurse Jackie’s Edie Falco and Milk’s Alison Pill join thespian forces in Chloë Moss’s thrillingly claustrophobic two-character British drama about Lorraine and Marie, former cellmates reunited in a shabby flat that becomes another prison of sorts as they struggle to form a new friendship that avoids unhealthy regression. Whether these lost souls had a romantic relationship behind bars is left vague — “I’m not your girlfriend,” young Marie shouts — but their shifting mother-daughter bond is undeniable. Distracting working-class London accents aside, Pill holds her own against Falco, who’s simply brilliant and almost unrecognizably butch.
In Elizabeth Meriwether’s Oliver Parker! a powerful but poorly titled black comedy about an unhealthy friendship that played through June 6 at the Cherry Lane Theatre, Rescue Me’s remarkable Michael Zegen starred as Oliver, a lost 17-year-old who wanted to get laid. Night Court’s John Larroquette was devastating as the guilt-crippled Jasper, Oliver’s 60-year-old former driver, who drinks cheap vodka and coughs blood in a squalid New York apartment Oliver paid for. Oliver wears a skintight skeleton costume and underwear as he attempts to seduce a pill-popping congresswoman and her feisty female aide, but the play takes an unsettling turn when the bomb drops that Jasper molested — or “diddled” — Oliver when he was 9 years old. Since Jasper is ostensibly straight, the play did a decent job of distancing pedophilia from homosexuality.
Starring as Tobin Falmouth, a New York writer of young adult novels in The Metal Children, which runs through June 13 at the Vineyard Theatre, Billy Crudup seems to be one of the few cast members who knows he’s in a play by Adam Rapp (Anthony Rapp’s brother), which is raw, edgy, and bluntly naturalistic by nature. Others in this clever but frustratingly uneven drama, which follows Tobin as he travels to a small town in the American heartland to defend one of his books that’s been banned — perhaps justifiably? — by the local school board, play their roles a bit too broadly, even as Rapp, who also directs, dips a toe into the realm of magical realism. Connor Barrett costars as a closeted gay teacher obsessed with the novel, and omnipresent out performer David Greenspan does double duty as Tobin’s gay-ish book agent and a priest.
Writer and star of Broadway’s Dirty Blonde, the 2000 cross-dressing toast to Mae West, Claudia Shear now celebrates Michelangelo’s David with Restoration at New York Theatre Workshop until June 13. Shear stars as Giulia, a stony Brooklyn art restorer hired to refresh the 17-foot statue — adoringly re-created by out designer Scott Pask — to prepare for its 500th anniversary. Proving cleanliness is next to godliness even if you can’t wash away history, this Florentine task basically lets Giulia eat, pray, and love. The day she does David’s penis is an awkward treat, as is the kiss she transfers from him to the lips of an elderly female admirer. Spit-polished by out director Christopher Ashley, this accessibly artsy comedy features Alan Mandell as Giulia’s ailing gay mentor and Jonathan Cake as a cocky security guard who threatens to upstage Dave’s beauty.
The playwright who explored lesbian longing and prostate probing in Broadway’s In the Next Room (or the Vibrator Play), Sarah Ruhl also begat Passion Play, which ended its New York premiere June 5 at the Irondale Center, a converted Sunday school inside Brooklyn’s Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church. Set in Elizabethan England, Nazi Germany, and Reagan-era South Dakota, this three-and-a-half hour epic mystically blurred the lines between religion, politics, theater, and reality as it dramatized festivals where laypeople stage biblical stories. Playing Jesus in all three eras and worthy of worship in a slipping loincloth, Hale Appleman, who played gay in Streamers off-Broadway, had a forbidden romance with a soldier playing Pontius Pilate (Nurse Jackie’s Dominic Fumusa) in 1934. In 1575, “Mary Magdalene” dreamed of kissing women.
If you thought nothing good ever came from airport delays, check out The Common Air, a solo play by Alex Lyras and Robert McCaskill, which soars at 45 Bleecker Street Theatre through June 27. Skillfully performed by Lyras with sophisticated direction by McCaskill, this one-man show uses a possible terrorist threat and the resulting delay at JFK to circularly link an ethnically diverse group of people — think Sarah Jones’s Bridge & Tunnel meets Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde. Rich in detailed mannerisms that somehow steer clear of stereotypes, these engaging characters include a Texan professor, a sample-stealing DJ, a douchey attorney, an Iraqi cabbie, an Iraqi-American just back from Baghdad, and a lint brush-wielding gay gallery owner who opens up about his enlightening trip to Mykonos and the gay-bashed boyfriend he abandoned.
Proving that gay theater can still successfully and meaningfully explore the subject of AIDS in 2010, out playwright Anton Dudley’s lovely Letters to the End of the World ended its very limited engagement May 16 at Theatre Row’s Studio Theatre. But Dudley, who also directed his intimate drama about a New Yorker inspired by a pen pal to leave his boyfriend and travel to Africa in 1998, tackles the virus with unexpected twists: It’s the AIDS crisis in Zambia that takes center stage despite the young gay couple at the heart of the play, and when one of the men does contract the disease, it’s through a fling with a heterosexual woman. Overcoming a tight space and some florid writing, the performances were stellar, especially Charles Socarides and Peter O’Connor as the couple, even if I couldn’t grasp why, besides hot sex, they were together.
The Burnt Part Boys, which runs through June 13 at Playwrights Horizons, follows five teens in 1962 West Virginia as they take the long scenic route to the coal mine where their fathers died in an accident 10 years earlier. Recalling Broadway’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, it’s a tuneful, uplifting journey with just a few too many pit stops along the way. Taking the trip with 13’s Al Calderon, Yank!’s Andrew Durand, and hot Kids Incorporated alum Charlie Brady, Noah Galvin provides comic relief as a geek who likes quilting (ping!), and Molly Ranson plays a tomboy whom Betty White would likely label as a bigger lesbian than Gingey. Fun fact: This meandering but moving musical, written by a group of former NYU musical theater grad students, was fostered by gay Falsettos composer William Finn, their teacher and mentor.
Coauthor of Judy Gold’s hit 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother, lesbian playwright Kate Moira Ryan penned Bass for Picasso, which ended its brief run May 23 at the Kirk Theater. Presented by Theater Breaking Through Barriers, whose mission is the casting of disabled actors, this quirky, tonally fishy comedy starred real-life amputee Anita Hollander as a fictional New York Times food writer throwing a dinner party at which she re-creates recipes from the Alice B. Toklas Cookbook. The guest list includes her kooky European lover, a lesbian widow with Republican in-laws, a gay ob-gyn dating a crystal meth addict, and an alcoholic gay playwright. Kudos to Ryan for writing a play with five gay characters; unfortunately, they’re largely unlikable. It’s a promising work with salty chuckles, but this dish needed better chefs and more time to bake.
Playwright Polly Stenham was only 19 when she penned That Face, which was an Olivier-nominated sensation in London. Here in America, where her dysfunctional family drama runs until June 27 at MTC’s New York City Center, her inexperience shows through flashes of brilliance influenced by Edward Albee and Tennessee Williams. Christopher Abbott, who played gay in Good Boys and True, stars as Henry, an 18-year-old dropout caring for his alcoholic mother, Martha, a manipulative loon who wants him to be gay so she won’t have to compete with another woman. When Henry’s sister gets suspended after drugging a classmate with mum’s Valium, their absent father comes home to clean up the hot mess. It’s not until Martha dresses Henry in her negligee and jewelry in the final scene that we see how horrifically codependent they’ve become.
Providing even more evidence to dispute Newsweek’s Ramin Setoodeh, out Broken Hearts Club star Matt McGrath, who was one of the best emcees in Cabaret and one of the hottest Hedwigs in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, convincingly starred as an average straight dude in LCT3’s production of Ellen Fairey's Graceland, which ended its New York debut May 29 at the Duke on 42nd Street. McGrath played Sam, a depressed edible arrangement delivery guy who reunites with his sad, boozy sister Sara, played by Two and a Half Men’s Marin Hinkle, to make sense of their enigmatic father’s suicide. There’s nothing terribly graceful about this witty but wobbly drama, which is largely set in Chicago’s Graceland cemetery — sorry, folks, no Elvis here! — but David Gelles Hurwitz was a revelation as the sardonic teenage groundskeeper crushing on Sara.
I’m a big fan of drag diva Jackie Beat’s solo holiday shows, but I had no idea she was such a talented playwright and comedic actress — no, seriously! In Whatever Happened to Busty Jane? which ended its four-evening stint May 19 at the Laurie Beechman Theater after a run in Los Angeles, Beat blew me away as the Bette to Dirty Sanchez bandmate Mario Diaz’s Joan in a spoof of 1962 classic What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? that’s as gross as it is gut-busting. Directed by Planet Unicorn’s Drew Droege and costarring Sam Pancake, Margaret Cho posse member Selene Luna, and YouTube sensation Nadya Ginsburg, this black-lacquer-and-Nagel-print nightmare pits washed-up buxom porn star Busty Jane against brother Branch Hardon, a power bottom now wheelchair-bound — “butcha are, Branch!” — from AIDS. Tasteful? No. Tasty? Yes!
Two months after the original tribe was replaced so that the company could reprise their roles in London, select critics were invited back to check out all the shiny new dos in Hair at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. The Tony-winning revival of the 1967 “American tribal love-rock musical,” which celebrated its one-year anniversary March 31, benefits from a fresh wide-eyed energy thanks to younger bohemians. American Idol finalists Ace Young and Diana DeGarmo, who bring a hot body and a big belt, star as Berger and Sheila. Electric cutie Kyle Riabko, who replaced Jonathan Groff in Spring Awakening, has taken over for Gavin Creel as Claude, who’s “hung up on a cross over Sheila and Berger.” The whole pansexual vibe feels a touch more family-friendly, but Jason Wooten wows as Woof, the show’s most overtly queer comic relief.