Saturday, December 18, 2010

The New Century

THE NEW CENTURY at Dobama, funny, but…

The question asked by Paul Rudnick's play, THE NEW CENTURY, probably is, “Where is the new century heading?” And, even though it was written by Rudnick, the creative and 'in” author of such gems as I HATE HAMLET, JEFFREY, and THE MOST FABULOUS STORY EVER TOLD, the script and the Dobama production don't seem to garner an answer.

Rudnick, who is openly gay, loads the script with one-liners which shoot out of the characters as if they were using verbal machine guns. The fun is generally there, at least through the first three monologues and, then, a trite last act, tries to give us some obtuse message.

This is not a politically correct play and the illusions and visual images will not be of interest to those of the political right persuasion or the uptight. Such topics as sexual bondage, multi-nationalism, transgenderism, lesbian marriage, scatology, Nellie queens, terrorism, AIDS, bad aesthetic taste, Chinese Siamese twins, and last, but not least, full frontal male nudity, are presented.

The monologues include a diatribe by Jean Kauffman, as the well meaning Jewish Helene Nadler from Massapequa, Long Island, who states that “we are each special.” Especially special, and the source of her being 'the most loving mother of all time,” are her three children. One is a co-habiting lesbian, another is transgendered, and the third is gay. The role was played by the irrepressible Linda Lavin in the New York production. Kauffman is good, though she plays the role more as a caricature than a character, thus losing some of the needed reality. Even so, she is amusing.

We next meet Mr. Charles (Greg Violand), currently of Palm Beach. He was living in New York,, but was “run out of town by those younger gays who thought he was too flamboyant, and a fey relic of the old gay culture.” So, now he is the star of “Too Gay,” a public access television program which airs in the early, early morning to a very limited audience. His “boy toy” is named Shane (Steven West) who “lives to dance” and prances around in short shorts, skin tight shirts and, in one scene, nothing at all. Well, that's not totally true. He does have a bouquet of roses which cover his private parts. But, temptation finally wins and the audience is exposed to all of Shane. Mr. Charles's goal in life is to eradicate bad taste, though he, himself, is a visual image of garish styles and colors. He attempts to influence the new born baby of Joann Milderry (Caitlin Lewins) to be gay and stylish.

Violand, who is one of my favorite local actors, seems uncomfortable with the total flamboyance of the role. It is a part which needs the late Paul Lynde at his limp-wristed best. Violand gets laughs, but misses some because he is trying too hard to be what he is not.

The third monologue is entitled “Crafty.” As the title indicates, the segment centers on Barbara Ellen Diggs (Molly McGinnis), a crafts person from Decatur, Illinois who shows off her wares as she tells the story of her son, a gay man who died of AIDS. Her wares include a crocheted tuxedo cover for her toaster , knit toilet paper covers, and sock puppets to cheer up kids in the hospital (she hangs them on their IV stands). Much credit for this segment's success must go to Nick Meloro, the properties designer, who must have searched every junk shop in the area to find all the doodads needed.

McGinnis is wonderful in the role. Her description of the AIDS quilt is a beautiful tribute to those who have been lost to the disease's epidemic.
The final segment, “The New Century,” is a contrived device to get all of the characters together for a play's dénouement. They all appear in the maternity ward of a NY hospital, for no apparent reason, other than to give Rudnick a device to bring his tale to a close. It doesn't work. The whole segment is forced and actually sucks the joy out of the first three acts.

After reading rave reviews of the New York production, it appears that the Dobama staging, under the direction of Scott Plate, though it is fine in parts, simply isn't up to Big Apple presentation. Kauffman and Violand try too hard, Steven West, though he has the physical assets, doesn't appear to have the acting chops to carry the complex role of Shane. Caitlin Lewins is fine in a brief role. Only Molly McGinnis is totally character correct.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: THE NEW CENTURY gets an acceptable, if not triumphant production at Dobama. There are many laughs, but Rudnick's message, if there is one, does not come through.