Monday, February 18, 2008

Recent Backstage Reviews







Blue Coyote's Happy Endings

February 15, 2008

By Christopher Murray

Blue Coyote Theater Group asked nine playwrights "for their take on the sex-worker industry." The entertaining result, Blue Coyote's Happy Endings, presents nine short pieces of great variety, all of which in some measure wittily explore questions of how we see each other in the context of our desires.

A tatty red velvet curtain frames the performing space for a succession of vignettes featuring go-go boys, peep show habitu├ęs, lonely hearts, and lovers. Theatrical serial Burning Habits author Blair Fell's piece, Beauty, begins the evening with a voyeur in a black raincoat (David Johnson) waxing eloquent on the charms of an exotic dancer (Joe Curnutte).

The usual dynamic of the watcher and watched is flipped, however, in Christine Whitley's strangely tender and moving Peep Show, in which a woman (a beautifully vulnerable Laura Desmond) pays for the privilege to be ogled and objectified by a brusque but oddly tender man (Robert Buckwalter).

Various kinks that help people grow closer to or stay distant from their erotic fascination are explored in John Yearley's Whenever You're Ready, about an artist's nude model (Tracey Gilbert), and in Matthew Freeman's The White Swallow, about a radio announcer-voiced husband (Matthew Trumbull) with a strange predilection picked up from watching snakes swallow their prey on Wild Kingdom.

But the most successful pieces, appearing last in the evening, poke gentle fun at our yearning for connection. Boo Killebrew's winsome Pulling Teeth imagines a suburban coffee klatch at which a fey Easter Bunny (the talented comedian Phillip Taratula) tries to convince his pal the Tooth Fairy (R. Jane Casserly) to stop turning tricks to earn money and assuage her loneliness. In David Johnston's Yes Yes Yes, a nerdy reader of James Joyce (Jim Ireland) finds surprising shared interests with a literate go-go boy (again, tow-headed Joe Curnutte, providing pitch-perfect irony in his portrayal).

Presented by Blue Coyote Theater Group and Access Theater at Access Theater, 380 Broadway, 4th floor, NYC. Feb. 12-March 1. Tue., 9 p.m.; Wed.-Sat.., 8 p.m. (212) 868-4444 or www.smarttix.com.


The Wild Party

February 12, 2008
By Christopher Murray

"Queenie was a blonde/And if looks could kill/She'd kill twice a day/In vaudeville." So begins the opening song in Andrew Lippa's musical version of the literally banned in Boston 1928 poem by Joseph Moncure March.

The jazzy, sung-through score concerns a crisis in the troubled relationship of Queenie (a platinum blond-wigged Nicole Sterling) and her comedian boyfriend Burrs (the cherry-cheeked Jonathan Hack). Queenie has decided that "I'll raise my skirt and make him hurt" by publicly humiliating Burrs when they throw a bathtub-gin party for all their eccentric friends, including a love-weary lesbian (the delightful Tauren Hagans), a pugilist and his moll (Theis Weckesser and K.C. Leiber), and two flamboyant piano-playing brothers (Justin Birdsong and Zak Edwards). Things get violent when Queenie's attentions are caught for real after their friend Kate (Julia Cardia) brings a dapper newcomer, Mr. Black (Michael Jones), to the wild party.

The Gallery Players revival of this 2000 Off-Broadway musical (not to be confused with George C. Wolfe and Michael John LaChuisa's Broadway version from the same season) features what has become standard for this group, a distinct and committed ensemble cast that seems to be having a terrific time. The leads are the workhorses in this piece, driving the slight plot forward while the mayhem swirls around them.

The company's vocal talents aren't quite up to the demanding score, but their enthusiasm in evoking a cartoon of Roaring '20s debauchery is infectious, especially in Summer Lee Jack's sexy and stylish if somewhat overaccessorized period costumes. Director Neal J. Freeman and choreographer Brian Swasey provide clarity, a sense of mischief, and clockwork precision in moving the 18-member cast around a postage stamp-sized stage.

Presented by and at the Gallery Players, 199 14th St., Brooklyn, NYC. Feb. 2-24. Thu. and Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 and 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. (212) 352-3101 or (866) 811-4111 or www.theatermania.com or wwwgalleryplayers.com.

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