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Seat Filler: NYC Theater Guide for March 2010

Seat Filler: NYC Theater Guide for March 2010


For better or worse, The Advocate's man on the New York theater scene takes on Valerie Harper as Tallulah Bankhead in Looped, Lucy Liu's Broadway debut and the gayest Glass Menagerie ever!

Honey, what's this? What's going on? What's happening? March madness finally made its tooth-marks when Megan Mullally ungracefully dropped out of the upcoming Broadway revival of Lips Together, Teeth Apart, Terrence McNally's 1991 play about two straight couples spending a summer weekend surrounded by gay men on Fire Island, forcing the entire production to be indefinitely postponed. But worry not, Wilma, because this spring is still shaping up to be the sassiest theater season in years.

I put Next Fall, the first full-length play by out playwright Geoffrey Nauffts, at the top of my year-end Best Queer Theater of 2009 list after its stunning summer run at off-Broadway's Playwrights Horizons. Thanks in part to a push by producers Elton John and David Furnish, the poignant dramedy, in which Adam, an atheist, and Luke, a pray-after-sex Christian, meet cute and bicker about their conflicting beliefs, has reopened at the Helen Hayes Theatre. Though one of Broadway's most intimate houses, the larger space doesn't do the show any favors: Once-subtle sight gags must now be spelled out, and the cast's broader, louder performances make some of the sitcom-y jokes -- "Whitney Houston hasn't been fierce in years," says Luke -- feel corny and stale. That nitpicking aside, it's still the must-see show of the season.

I first fell for The Temperamentals at the 40-seat Barrow Group Studio off-off-Broadway. In its third move, out playwright Jon Marans's engrossing drama about Harry Hay's inspirational 1950 founding of a gay-rights group called the Mattachine Society recently reopened in a 199-seat space at off-Broadway's New World Stages. Gay director Jonathan Silverstein has smoothly restaged the show for a proscenium, and just as Ugly Betty's Michael Urie looks more toned in his square-cut swimsuit as Austrian fashion designer Rudi Gernreich, the play itself seems slimmer with 20 superfluous minutes shaved off. Replacing Tom Beckett, lone new cast member Arnie Burton is also a welcome addition. If you're feeling really temperamental -- '50s code for "gay" -- rock your radical fairies finest for the special, super-cheap Easter Sunday matinee.

I enjoy golden-throated gay crooner Michael Feinstein's earnest interpretation of great American standards. I also enjoy the irreverent shtick of Dame Edna, the gladiola-tossing drag persona of Aussie comedian Barry Humphries. I dig pickles and ice cream too, but I don't want them on the same plate, possums. As part of a PR stunt that consolidated the two acts amongst passive-aggressive mudslinging, All About Me, which is self-involved through April 4 at Henry Miller's Theatre, blends both worlds and proves there can be too much of a good thing on Broadway. Whether they're going rogue, singing a medley, or fighting for face time flanked by flaming backup dancers, it's all a little strange, stretched, and snoozy. It's really all about Jodi Capeless, the out lesbian who belts "And the World Goes 'Round" as the stage manager.

It's fitting that Rhoda's Valerie Harper, whom Vito Russo interviewed for The Advocate in 1976, should brighten Broadway as gay icon Tallulah Bankhead. In Matthew Lombardo's lightweight Looped at the Lyceum Theatre, Bankhead boozes and bullies around a soundstage for hours in 1965 as she tries to dub one line in what would be her final film, Die! Die! My Darling! It's mostly like watching a Joan Rivers stand-up act if Joan were a promiscuous lush, but I love when the set morphs into the Coconut Grove Playhouse, where Bankhead tragically camped up her Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire. Bankhead's bisexuality is also addressed -- she calls Joan Crawford a lousy lay because "she kept getting out of bed to beat the children" -- but I could've done without Brian Hutchinson as her tortured, sweaty, self-loathing gay film editor.

No limbs are lost in A Behanding in Spokane, but Martin McDonagh's black comedy, which runs through June 6 at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, does start with a literal and proverbial bang. Christopher Walken does his best Walken impression as Carmichael, an oddball obsessed with finding his long-severed hand, but the ensuing madness never quite matches the magic of watching Walken slowly rise from a seedy motel-room bed to fire his gun into a noisy closet. As for special gay interest? Well, before the N-word becomes his bullet of choice, Carmichael repeatedly calls his crying captive (The Hurt Locker's Anthony Mackie) a "fag." Sam Rockwell, who plays the front desk manager, later delivers a random front-of-curtain monologue about bravery and saving lesbians. It's all a bit offensive, but their ignorance can be bliss.

There's literally and figuratively a big lace doily encircling the stage of the Circle in the Square Theatre, cozy home of Broadway's first revival of The Miracle Worker through April 4. But the dust on William Gibson's biographical 1959 drama, which celebrates Annie Sullivan's breakthrough communication with deaf-blind student Helen Keller, is kicked up by stars Abigail Breslin and Alison Pill: Oscar-nominated for Little Miss Sunshine, Breslin is fiercely committed to the grunting and flailing Helen, and Pill, who played activist Anne Kronenberg in Milk, is simply miraculous as Helen's saucy savior. I'm not saying director Kate Whoriskey should've somehow foreshadowed the pair's rumored lesbian relationship or anything, but I wish she'd given the tearjerker a fresher polish for its 50th anniversary production other than furniture that drops in and out on wires.

If you're not familiar with the work of British drag queen Bette Bourne, think Quentin Crisp without the controversial AIDS comments. Mark Ravenhill, the charming British gay playwright best known for Shopping and Fucking, once interviewed Bourne in the iconic performer's Notting Hill home about his awe-inspiring life as a seminal gay rights activist and founder of the Bloolips, a groundbreaking satirical drag troupe. Luckily, those candid conversations were recorded and recreated for A Life in Three Acts, a London and Edinburgh hit that wrapped its U.S. premiere at Brooklyn's St. Ann's Warehouse on March 28. Illustrated by projections of archival and personal images from Bourne's days in a drag commune and as a key figure in the Gay Liberation Front, it's riveting stuff, and Bourne has you hanging on his every syllable like a silk chemise.

You may think you know The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams's 1944 memory play, but director Gordon Edelstein has tricks in his pocket. In Roundabout's staging, which haunts the Laura Pels Theatre through June 13, our narrator, Tom, conjures the St. Louis tenement of his youth from his New Orleans hotel room, a concept established by Tom's typing, reading, and mouthing other characters' lines. As his smothering mother Amanda, Designing Women's Judith Ivey cashes in on the role's comedy without cheapening it one cent, but the real revelation here is Patch Darragh's notably gay take on Tom. No question this swish is hitting gay bars instead of movies, and when his sister's gentleman caller arrives I'd argue that Tom, who fans himself in "ooh, honey, did it just get hot in here?" fashion, seems more smitten than she is.

Praised for off-Broadway's naturalistic Our Town revival, out director David Cromer lends his thoughtful, tender touch to Andrew Bovell's When the Rain Stops Falling, which dries up April 18 at Lincoln Center's Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater. Set in London and Australia, this exquisite drama skips around between 1959 and 2039 to examine identity-defining moments within one family's haunting history, which includes a homosexual pedophile. The play opens with a fish falling from the sky at a time when fish are extinct. Another scene has the characters, some younger and older versions of a person existing in different places and times, simultaneously slurping fish soup at the same table. Sound fishy? It does require patience, but the puzzling pieces fit perfectly in the end -- and all on two revolving turntables that put Les Miz to shame.

According to her bio, Suzanne Brockmann is a "proud PFLAG mom" and a best-selling author of novels about a gay FBI agent. That makes Brockman pretty swell in my book, but Looking for Billy Haines, the play she's penned with husband Will McCabe, had me looking for the exit. I'm grateful that this chipper romantic comedy, scheduled through May 22 at the Lion Theatre, introduced me to Haines, an openly gay silent film star who gave up his career to remain in a public relationship with his partner, Jimmie. The playwrights fumbled when they chose to tell this fascinating story through Jamie, a fictional present-day New York actor auditioning for a film about Haines. Jamie's dream sequences do allow for some delightful tap numbers, but his wacky roomies and closeted boyfriend should've made like Haines's films and stayed silent.

Like its playwright, Bill Cain, former artistic director of the Boston Shakespeare Company, you'd have to be a total Shakespeare geek to truly appreciate Equivocation, a historical fantasy that played Manhattan Theatre Club's New York City Center through March 28. Darkly directed by Garry Hynes with farcical haunted-house flair, this ambitious comedy imagines how Shakespeare might've managed to put on the crowd-pleasing Macbeth when forced to write a false history of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, an attempt by Catholics to kill King James I. Standing out in a fine cast that features What's That Smell's David Pittu and Mad About You's John Pankow as the Bard, the handsome and sometimes shirtless David Furr hams up the kilted king's Scottish brogue and bisexuality, particularly when he molests a Macbeth actor in drag.

Directed by Ethan Hawke on a junk-shop set resembling a T.G.I. Friday's, the New Group's mind-screwing revival of Sam Shepard's award-winning 1986 play A Lie of the Mind sold out its brief run through March 20. If there were ever such a thing as theater for straight dudes, this dysfunctional backwoods family drama would be it, with its deer-hunting, abusive husbands, fraternal competition, blind patriotism, gunshot wounds, and sex fantasies -- all scored live by art duo Gaines, brothers who transform found objects into sonic sculpture. Leading a cast that boasted Roseanne's Laurie Metcalf and Mad Men's Maggie Siff, Alessandro Nivola was menacingly sexy as a loose cannon worried he may have murdered his wife in a jealous rage. His scenes wearing only boxers, a bomber jacket, and boots were the highlight of my week.

I'm a big fan of Craig Wright, the creator of Dirty Sexy Money and an Emmy-nominated writer on Six Feet Under and Brothers & Sisters, but I don't know what he was thinking when he wrote Blind, a stagnant retelling of the Oedipus myth that mercifully went out of sight March 21 at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. This pretentious drama didn't feature an Oedipus-like character; it was Oedipus himself, whom we met as he -- and the citizens of Thebes -- are realizing that his wife, Jocasta, is actually his mom. Why Wright chose to modernize the costumes and sleek bedroom setting while keeping the names and speech patterns ancient, I'll never know. Even wonderful actors Veanne Cox and Seth Numrich, who bared his soul (and more) as a troubled gay teen in last year's Slipping, couldn't keep me from wanting to gouge out my own eyes.

God of Carnage, Yasmina Reza's Tony-winning comedy about two couples meeting to discuss a brawl between their sons, has been a hot ticket since its February 2009 premiere with Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini, and Marcia Gay Harden. I find the new third replacement cast, which calls the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre home through June 20, the best yet. Happiness star Dylan Baker and Mary Stuart's Janet McTeer are captivating, as is Daniels, who triumphantly returns in the role originated by Gandolfini. Charlie's Angel's Lucy Liu, making her Broadway debut, isn't adept at holding for laughs, but she gets better as her reserved character gets drunker and meaner. And when the masculinity of the boys is questioned -- one son did "drag" in a production of Charley's Aunt -- who but Liu could make "faggot" sound so funny?

Easily the best show I saw all month -- I still have goosebumps! -- The Scottsboro Boys breathes lyrical new life into the infamous 1930s case in which nine innocent African-American teens were falsely accused of rape, ultimately provoking national outrage that helped spark the civil rights movement. With a score by John Kander and the late Fred Ebb (Chicago, Cabaret, etc.), direction and choreography by Susan Stroman (The Producers, Contact, etc.), and the most accomplished design team in town, this emotionally energetic musical, which boldly tweaks minstrel conventions, more than lives up to its pedigree. These boys (including GLAAD Award-winning Big Gay Sketch Show star Colman Domingo) have already sold out their limited run through April 18 at off-Broadway's Vineyard Theatre, but it'll be a crime if it doesn't transfer to Broadway.

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Brandon Voss