Mano a mano: The Hand
Two men — one showering naked — share an uncomfortable silence during their morning rituals in the bathroom. “When are you leaving?” one asks. Maybe it’s a trick gone bad.
But the other man — the poorer one — has no intention of leaving. Not without the rich man’s hand.
The Hand, a world premiere translation from Broken Gears Project Theatre, is a juicy, rather simple, short (45 minutes!) allegorical play, though what exactly it is an allegory for I’m still not quite sure: The poor man is missing his hand, having sold it to the rich man’s doctor three years ago for a transplant. Only now he wants it back. Class warfare? Obamacare? The idea of men touching each other with the same mitt but not being gay?
Actually, there’s an undeniable homoeroticism to the show as the men spend all the time wearing towels in bathroom. It’s especially apparent when Joey Folsom plays the rich man with a fey, continental air. (He and co-star Jeff Swearingen swap roles for each performance; during the final week, they will actually mount the show as a twofer: Act 1 with one cast, then followed by Act 2 with the roles reversed.) When Swearingen says to him, “I’ve come to ask for your hand,” you wonder if they’re living in Massachusetts.
(During the recent Horton Foote festival, Folsom appeared in a one-act playing a man who lost his arm to a thresher and demands justice from his employer. This is a weird companion piece to that.)
This is absurdist theater with a sickly twisted sense of humor: Waiting for Godot as directed by Quentin Tarantino. (Director Andy Baldwin even kicks it off with Tarantino-esque mariachi music.) It’s a deliciously evil mindfuck of a play, part Sleuth, part Bunuel film, where the concept of “a pound of flesh” takes on an odd meaning. It’s a great capstone to Broken Gears’ second season, where they have continued to reconfigure their space for a diverse slate of plays.
The three men involved here — Folsom, Swearingen and Baldwin — invest tremendous energy in this one-act, which gives it a momentum that is shocking and refreshing, like plunging your face in ice water. Give these guys a hand.
— Arnold Wayne Jones
3819 Fairmont. Through June 25. Folsom plays the rich man June 11, 14, 16 and 18; Swearingen play the rich man June 10 and 17; they will do two performances a night with each cast June 22, 23, 24 and 25. $15. BrokeanGears.weebly.com.
Cirque du so lame: Pippin
The opening number of Pippin is called “Magic to Do.” Here’s thing: If it’s not magical, you’ve lost the audience for the rest of the show. (“Come and spend an hour or two,” is one of the lyrics; opening night got close to three hours. And still no magic.) It needs to wow you. But the circus-inspired production now at Theatre Three is played as if the entire cast had Epstein-Barre syndrome and had just decided to show up for a rehearsal. It’s on quarter-power at best. And with all the garish costumes and paste-white face paint, it feels more like the slo-mo feverdream on a mind-addled opium addict than a play.
It never recovers from the false start. Pippin is a part of a genre of musicals, popular in the early 1970s, that tried to take classical or historic stories from antiquity and gussy them up with Hair-like pop-culture relevance and a rockish score: Cyrano, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Candide, Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar. They were all fine in their day, but once Chicago opened and turned a modern eye on the circus-atmosphere of the past, they immediately seemed dated, like a watching silent film in 1945 or making one in black and white today. With the possible exception of Candide, none are true classics (the latter two have staying power beyond their warrant). Despite a few passable songs (“Corner of the Sky, Just No Time at All,” “Spread a Little Sunshine”), Pippin really isn’t in need of a revival as much as a wake.
It feels like it is getting that. N. Wilson King, in the gender-bending role of Leading Player, is vocally unsuited for the part. She has a rich, gospelly voice, but not the Broadway-pop range to get the crowd going, as if Marlon Brando were playing a high school cheerleader. As Pippin, Max Swarner acts out every lyric with broad gestures, as if appearing in a children’s theater production of Green Eggs and Ham. It’s not his fault; director Bruce Coleman should have reigned in such limp choices, just as he should have tapped into King’s sense of fun.
Lee Jamison perks up Act 2; she has a strong comic sense that fits into the presentational style of the show. Bradley Campbell is fine as Charlemagne, and LisaAnne Haram gives a kicky rendition of a dotty grandma, but these are islands of competence floating in a sea of wrongheadedness.
A few weeks ago, Dallas Theater Center mounted a revival of Cabaret, creating a shabby, gaudy memory of a culture in decline that burrowed under your skin. There’s nothing intentionally unnerving about this version of Pippin — it’s just ugly and dull.
Theatre Three, 2900 Routh St. in the Quadrangle. Through July 2. Threatre3Dallas.com.
Planet of the Abes: Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Dance Party
Four score and seven years may be the most famous lapse-of-time reference in history, but two hours and forty minutes seems like a close second. That’s the running time (not including two intermissions) of Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Dance Party from Level Ground Arts. This is one really, really long comedy. But you know what? It’s filled with so many pleasures and moments of delicious subversiveness that, other than a severe case of numb-butt, it’s not a bad trade.
This is a bare-bones production, with set pieces made of foam core. That’s not a jab — these days, some people don’t feel like it’s real theater unless a chandelier comes crashing over their heads or Spider-Man stunt doubles go spiraling toward near-death. Sometimes less is more.
The show is enhanced by a skilled young cast. It’s all about solid performances, a daring, sometimes-moving script and some old fashioned experimentation. The plot is surprisingly intricate. It all starts with a children’s holiday pageant about Santa Claus getting a presidential pardon. When one of the children (apparently played as special-needs, which is completely unnecessary) spouts off about Abraham Lincoln’s love of another man, the teacher is vilified by the conservative Illinois town and put on trial for indecency.
What follows the setup is far more interesting. Big Gay Dance Party presents the same story from three characters’ perspectives. Through the democratic process (natch) an audience member is chosen to select which character’s version we see first. So, theoretically there are six different ways the plot can unfold. It’s fascinating. The entire third act, I found myself wondering what the show would’ve been like had that one been first, or even second. All in all, it’s an enjoyable mechanism that fills in plot mysteries like pieces fitting snuggly into a puzzle.
Between scenes, during set changes, and just about any time they feel like it, the cast busts a move—sometimes with elaborate choreography and matching stovepipe hats and beards. This is a big gay dance party, after all. Glow sticks, sadly, are not included.
— Steven Lindsey
KD Studio Theatre, 2600 N. Stemmons Freeway. Through June 25. Fridays–Saturdays at 8:15 p.m. $20. LevelGroundArts.com
Logo, your next sitcom is ready: Outrageous, Sexy (Nekkid) Romp
Alejandro de la Costa’s Outrageous, Sexy (Nekkid) Romp, MBS Productions’ latest show, could well be a pilot pitch for a TV sitcom. They could approach Logo with Two Gays and a Girl, or maybe Our Fairy Dragmother … but as a play … well, it’s complicated.
De la Costa wrote a semi-complex farce about relationships for a cast of four. He pits male couple Casey (Andrew Bryan) and Keith (Philip Gage) into an emotional whirlwind of a night. Drag queen friend Lovely Uranus (Sonna) is moving in temporarily, and happens to have hitched a ride with Casey’s ex-girlfriend, Lara (Emily Murphy). Yes, girlfriend. Upon Lara’s arrival, Keith is confused by his attraction and constant hard-on when she’s around. Could he be straight? Bi? Do we care?
Well, yes and no.
Set in the couple’s apartment, we’re introduced to the boys waking up to coffee and some potential morning sex. It doesn’t happen as Lovely is early with her belongings and Lara. Sure the coincidence is unlikely, but easy to ignore as merely plot device. Other things weren’t.
For whatever reason, the cast was clearly off this night. They flubbed several lines or ad-libbed to maybe cover up some forgotten ones. These nights happen, I get that, but a week into the run, you expect more mojo.
The chemistry of the male couple never coalesces. Even that Bryan and Gage come off wooden, they were at least awkwardly convincing as an item in the first half, albeit minus any nuances. Those charms somehow devolve completely in the second act. In the blowout after Casey and Lovely discover Keith and Lara having sex, arguments ensued that played like an acting workshop rather than a fighting couple. The closed lip kisses and strange hugs didn’t help, either.
Lovely Uranus is not the most glamorous of drag queens, but Sonna made the most out of facial gestures, lots of makeup and some really short lingerie. It didn’t make complete sense that he’d be in drag while moving, but it wasn’t a distraction.
Lovely is the loud conscience of the show, but not always successfully. Sonna’s big monologue veers into a somber, dramatic moment, but he nails it with delicacy that doesn’t stray too far from Lovely’s outlandish persona.
Two things really kept the play afloat for me. Despite the flubs, de la Costa’s clever script is conceivably ready for prime time. The wit is there, as is substance. He wrote a play that ultimately isn’t just about a gay guy having sex with a girl and the shenanigans around it. He brilliantly weaved a story that looked at how relationships are defined and the fluidity that goes with them (or maybe needs to go with them). He fit in discussions on open relationships, gay/straight labels, single versus partnered and even the sex appeal of drag without stuffing it in. One political jab disturbed the flow, but otherwise, de la Costa created a gem.
The second was the luminous Emily Murphy, a stunning actress with a body to die for. She’s part sexual predator, part bitch, but she puts it behind a smile. Lara has ulterior motives but also doesn’t confuse sex with feelings. Murphy delivers on all fronts in commanding fashion.
Romp unexpectedly had something to say. While some of the acting didn’t make strong impressions, I couldn’t get a lot of what de la Costa had written out of my mind. And that made it worthwhile.
— Rich Lopez
Stone Cottage Theatre, 15650 Addison Road. Through June 18. $18¬–$22. MBSProductions.net.