Naked boys, only a little singing

Posted on 01 Oct 2007 at 6:13pm
By Arnold Wayne Jones – Staff Writer

Four gay-friendly plays “‘Little Dog Laughed,’ “‘The Play About the Baby,’ “‘Little Shop’ and “‘Pygmalion’ provide flesh, flash and frustration



“The Little Dog Laughed”

Mitchell (Kyle May), an up-and-coming movie star, has successfully hidden his homosexuality from the public, but his taste for rent-boys in particular Alex (Chad Peterson), a peculiarly cheery escort with a girlfriend who says he only whores himself out to men for the money is getting the better of him.

Mitchell’s agent Diane (Marisa Diotalevi) doesn’t like his peeking out of the closet one bit. Even though she’s lesbian, she hates that her client is gay for practical reasons. Who’ll want to see a gay guy pretending to be gay? she wonders. That’s not acting, that’s life. Meanwhile, Alex begins to like being a kept man and to have feelings for Mitchell.

“The Little Dog Laughed” is the theatrical equivalent of a roman-a-clef it’s cravenly calculated to intrigue and titillate. Indeed, the specificity of both the action and the characters devised by author Douglas Carter Beene leaves us with only two option: either he has a vivid imagination or he speaks from experience. You soon realize that the play-within-a-play seems to be the play we’re watching.

“Wait, is that supposed to be Tom Cruise? Hugh Jackman? Kevin Spacey? Is the famous, indignant writer mentioned Beene himself?”

“Little Dog Laughed” is alternatively comic and tender, but it suffers the curse of the clever wordsmith: Good lines that don’t quite gel collectively. The play smacks of a furiously-composed exorcism of long-boiling resentments and observations. It feels unedited, like Beene decided to commit “to the truth of the moment” and didn’t want to revisit it. It has immediacy, but suffers from the sloppiness of clich?s that aren’t recognized as clich?s.

It’s also proof that dropping trou isn’t enough to keep an audience’s interest with more “there” there. May’s Dick Tracy jawline and flash of nudity can’t mask a flat stiffness to his performance.

That leaves Peterson with too little to play off; imagine a champion tennis player returning lobs from an amateur and you get the idea of how mismatched they are.

Alicia Bullen, as Alex’s snippy girlfriend, has terrific comic timing in that flighty, Goldie Hawn way, but her even in the small studio space at WaterTower Theatre, her bird-like voice doesn’t project sit further back than the second row and you’ll need an ear-horn to hear her.

That’s not an issue with Diotalevi, who’s perfectly loud and well-suited to convey the nodding, cynical wisdom of Diane. On opening night, she delivered her monologues with sass, but director James Paul Lemons’ staging seemed to stifle her. (Characters were constantly dodging the huge bed set, the movement of which also slowed scene transitions.)

The script of “Little Dog Laughed” has enough zing that audiences (especially gay audiences) will find plenty to smile at and identify with, but the cast in this production needs to get in sync.



“The Play About the Baby”

There’s nothing wrong with the cast in “The Play About the Baby,” Edward Albee’s absurdist, reductive rewrite of his masterpiece “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” The four actors Bill Jenkins, Linda Leonard, Joel McDonald and Jennifer Youle have timing and style and, particularly in Leonard’s case, balls-out bravery in portraying characters known only as Man, Woman, Boy and Girl. They get mouthfuls of seemingly meaningless dialogue to chew over, frequently squeezing out discomforting lines (for instance, Boy telling his wife, who is breast-feeding their newborn, to “save some for me;” shudder). The production, brilliantly directed by Susan Sargeant with lots of sexually playful cavorting, is everything the play asks of it.

But that just beggars the question: What is this play, anyway?

Boy and Girl say they have recently become parents, but Man and Woman, whom they have never met before but who seem to know them, insist there is no baby.

Huh?

At essence, this is Albee’s skeletal, “Godot”-like retread of his favorite topic: The non-existence (or missing) child. (Apparently the 79-year-old Albee, who was adopted by what he calls cold parents, still has some abandonment issues.) Gone are the complex gamesmanship of “Woolf’s” George and Martha; instead, we get Vladmir and Estragon dancing around with verbal hijinks, talking abstractly and non-sequiturs which, we trust, will eventually come together.

They never really do, at least not as live theater. “The Play About the Baby,” while intentionally and unmistakably theatrical (witness its title), works best as literature: Something to be read, not performed. Its metaphors are as elliptical as David Lynch’s film “Mulholland Drive,” but without the woozy dream quality. You can probably posit that Man and Woman represent some form of Boy and Girl’s psyches (the super-ego in designer clothes), but it’s not the kind of play that can be known in a single sitting.

There’s a place for stage-lit, of course, and WingSpan Theatre Co.’s version is as finely-pitched as I can imagine. But the combination of Vaudeville, Ionesco, Sartre and Ibsen is a volatile formula and not the kind you’d put in this “Baby’s” bottle.



“Little Shop of Horrors”

Full disclaimer up front: I firmly believe “Little Shop of Horrors” may already be the perfect modern musical. The plot, stolen from the Roger Corman horror quickie (it’s about a “strange and interesting” alien plant bent on world domination), is dumb but charming; the music compellingly hummable; the characters (even the villainous ones) irresistible. With competent singers and a passable man-eating plant costume, it would be hard to ruin.

The real selling point of the show has always been the show itself. Author-lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken, later acclaimed for their Disney film scores, were never more daring keeping a downbeat ending, finding rhymes for “sturm und drang” and devising torch songs sung to vegetation, or having two men dance a tango about adoption. The results touching, sad, creepy and funny is a terrific musical.

Flower Mound Performing Arts Theatre’s production (am I the only one who find irony in a play about a killer plant performed in a town called Flower Mound?), directed by Mark Mullino, is not ruined by any means, but it does suffer from the same clunky scene transitions and merely serviceable lighting that this space usually has to contend with. How lucky, then, they have a sparkling cast to soften the blows of bad staging.

Doug Miller still has the boyishly innocent appearance that makes Seymour such a goofy-wonderful leading man he makes Pee-Wee Herman look like a smooth operator. Stephanie Riggs embodies Audrey, the bubble-headed ditz with the strong singing voice. Paul Taylor’s huff-headed masochistic dentist, undulating in leather fetish gear, delivers a wild, unrestrained performance. If only the set changes had his energy.

“Pygmalion”

Like Albee, George Bernard Shaw specialized in plays about ideas. Is most famous play, “Pygmalion,” has almost too many ideas going at once. It’s about socialism, morality, male-female (and male-male, and mother-son) relationships, even behavioral psychology.

But mostly it’s about words: Lots and lots of witty words, dashed off with lightning speed. There’s a pace to “Pygmalion” that gives it life.

So when the sound of rain nearly drowns out the actors in the first scene of Theatre Three’s production (staged, frustratingly, in a corner of behind two huge toilet-paper rolls meant to represent Doric column), we don’t get off to a great start.

Things are worsened when Doug Jackson steps out as a Cockney dustman, drawing out the end of every line like fingernails scraping along a blackboard, the show nearly stops and not in a good way.

When the two first scenes have such negatives, it’s hard to pull yourself out of the deficit. But that’s what happens when Danielle Pickard (as the poor flower girl Eliza) and Gregory Lush (as the imperious language expert Henry Higgins) get their teeth in the third scene. You can almost overlook everything that was wrong with the beginning. The scene is played as hilarious as it can be, largely due to them.

For those familiar with “Pymalion” only through its musical incarnation “My Fair Lady,” Shaw’s original may seem darker and more political; it is. There’s the famous plot, wherein prissy dandies Higgins and Col. Pickering (Terry Vandivort), doing their version of an Edwardian “Queer Eye,” turn a street urchin into a duchess while merrily congratulating themselves for their own skills. But the ending isn’t a happily-ever-after; it’s more like a what-will-happen-next? And the speechifying dips into the preachy.

But it is a comedy, and done right, the laughs are memorable. Listening to Pickard, in precisely controlled English, say appalling things at a tea party, you realize that her ability to keep a straight face cannot be underestimated: It’s riotous fun played completely straight. Lush is almost as good, while Vandivort and Terry McCracken provide able support.

If only the actors didn’t have to deliver their lines in such dreadful costumes. In the last dramatic scene, Eliza is saddled with a dress that looks like a Holly Hobby hand-me-down. The opera isn’t over till the fat lady sings or she’s dressed by Bruce Coleman in a feather boa. Look for it in last 30 seconds that’s how you’ll know to start gathering you things.

“The Little Dog Laughed.” Presented by WaterTower Theatre. Addison Theatre Centre, 15650 Addison Road. Through Nov. 18. Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays-Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. $20. 972-450-6232.

“The Play About the Baby.” Presented by WingSpan Theater Co. Bath House Cultural Center, 521 E. Lawther Drive. Through Nov. 10. Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m., Saturday matinees at 2 p.m. $12-$20. 214-675-6573.

“Little Shop of Horrors.” Presented by Flower Mound Performing Arts Theatre, 830 Parker Square, Flower Mound. Through Nov. 10. Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Fridays-Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sunday matinee at 2:30 p.m. $25-$35. 972-724-2147.

“Pygmalion.” Presented by Theatre Three, 2900 Routh St. in the Quadrangle. Through Nov. 25. Thursdays, Sundays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays-Saturdays at 8 p.m., weekend matinees at 2:30 p.m. $10-$40. 214-871-3300.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice web edition November 2, 2007

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