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LETTERS TO EDITOR
When Les Gutman saw "Mr. Charles, Currently of Palm Beach" three years ago it was the last item on the menu of the annual Marathon Festival of One-Act plays (see link), he observed that while it was that evening's " perfect dessert" it was "as sharp a piece of hysterical barbed wire as anyone could have written, unrelentingly giving its audience something to laugh at". The play has now moved into first place position, happily with Peter Bartlett, once again playing the "self-described last-of-a-breed" of gay men who embrace being as flamboyantly flouncy or "Nelly" as possible -- and with the same joie de vivre of the original performance. If one is to stay with the food analogy, this repositioning would make it the appetizer. It is, in fact, the main course since it is the standout of the entire eighty-minute enterprise.
From the moment Bartlett, a crayon colored vision in lemon yellow and chartreuse, ascends a throne-like gilded chair to preside over his every other Thursday 4.am. cable TV show "Too Gay", we are treated to a rat-a-tat barrage of outrageous (and outrageously funny) opinions on everything from whether homosexuals can change ("yes, for dinner") to Gays in the millitary ("They should make remarks, not war"). While Charles is the star of "Too Gay" much of the fun is provided by Neil Huff as his hunky young "ward" and assistant who periodically bursts into the studio in a variety of quip-inducing costumes. The Charlesian witticisms culminate in a hilarious 60-second rundown of Gay theater, concluding with " It's all about love, valor and gratuitous gay nudity."
Having made fun of the contemporary Gays who assimilate into conventional life styles that include parenting, Rudnick next turns to just such a couple (Bartlett and Huff again). Inspired by friends who have espoused family values, c Timmy (Huff) and Trent (Bartlett) two well-heeled, Manhattan co-op dwellers are about to become adoptive parents Timmy, has upped the risk of the adoptive process by agreeing to take in a special needs child. In the absurdist events that follows, their would-be little daughter Katinka (Harriet Harris) turns out to be a very adult and crazed Slovakian peasant clutching a doll named Leg (it is in fact, a leg instead of a complete little inanimate person). The zaniness takes an even more bizarre turn when Katinka removes her babushka and metamorphoses into the adoption worker who has tired of placing her charges into the kind of upscale real estate she covets for herself. Harris's over-the-top Katinka adds star power to the cast.
Unfortunately, while Bartlett, Huff and Harris, continue to excel Rudnick's departure from his amiable good humor makes "On the Fence" a badly flawed finale. Because this is the part of this three-legged stool which has the potential to be a real play instead of a comedy sketch it is also the most disappointing. It is a fantasia that begins with Matthew Shepard (Huff) bloody and tied to the Laramie, Wyoming fence where he was left to die after a brutal beating. The guardian angel designated to lead him into the other world turns out to be none other than Eleanor Roosevelt (Harris). Harris is hilarious and Huff endearingly innocent, but despite some effective bits and pieces, the Shepard tragedy and Rudnick's one-liners, like oil and water don't mix -- even less so, when a third character taken from real life, a caftan-clad Paul Lynde (Bartlett) arrives to help the saintly Mrs. Roosevelt persuade Shepard that he is indeed dead. While Mr. Bartlett ably carricatures Lynde, it is when Lynde comes on stage that any hope of being serious and also funny collapses. Worse still, all three characters turn into would be killers, threatening the audience with guns. Even in the best of times this scene would be in bad taste and dramaturgically unsatisfying.
The actors, as already stated, are first rate, as is Christopher Ashley's direction. Gregory A. Gale's costumes add enormously to the visual comedy, and Allen Moyers' sets give each play its own distinct atmosphere. Last but not least, there are Jan Hartley's transitional projections which are a show in themselves -- especially the images between plays two and three in which Nathan Lane makes a surprise appearance.
Ideally, Mr. Rudnick would have whipped up a delectable little dessert on the order of "Mr. Charles, Currently of Palm Beach", so that the evening would end on the same high note as its curtain raiser. Even without it and notwithstanding its flaws, however, Rude Entertainment is good entertainment.
Links to other CurtainUp reviews of Paul Rudnick work :
"Mr. Charles" at Marathon '98 Festival
The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told--Williamstown.. . . NYC
6,500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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