What to see at FIT: ‘Lady Bright,’ Tennessee

The offerings at this year’s Festival of Independent Theatres are making it one of the best yet.

The fest opened with the double bill of Upstart’s Wasp and Second Thought’s Bob Birdnow, the former an absurdist charmer and the latter a one-man tour-de-force from actor Barry Nash.  Two more plays this weekend have similar credentials.

WingSpan mounts a double bill of short-short plays. One, Perfect Analysis Given by a Parrot by Tennessee Williams, is like Streeetcar Lite: Two ageing Southern ladies (Nancy Sherrard and Cindee Mayfield, pictured) who dress like they were trained in fashion at RuPaul’s Drag U, troll the bars of Chicago looking for conventioneers they can bed. In typically Williams style, they mask their lack of morals behind a veneer of moral indignation and ethical relativism, bathed in film of self-delusion and exaggerated gentility. It’s a bitter, catty pas-de-deux with laughs — more laughs, at least, than its companion piece, John Guare’s The Loveliest Afternoon of the Year. A sort of romantic take on Albee’s Zoo Story, it follows a couple who meet in a park under less-than-ideal circumstances and come to a halting understanding about their relationship. There’s not much there there, as you might say — neither funny nor poignant, but just quirky.

So goes the absurdism; the one performance that rival’s Nash’s is surely Larry Randolph’s in ONe Thirty Productions’  The Madness of Lady Bright. Randolph plays an ageing drag queen, surrounded by the memories of his once-glorious romances and catalogue of friends. Now old and alone, he’s dressing up like Bernadette in Priscilla: Haggard, defeated, still craving affection.

This early play in the gay culture movement is a prickly, tender and sad, but also phenomenally realistic and well-realized portrait of growing old and alone, whether gay or straight. And Randolph’s resourceful, exquisitely wrought performance, full of tarnished dignity, sells it. This is a show — a performance — not to be missed.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones