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The New Century: Theater Review - Ladue News: Arts & Entertainment

The New Century: Theater Review

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Posted: Monday, May 14, 2012 12:14 pm | Updated: 12:23 pm, Mon May 14, 2012.

Story: Playwright Paul Rudnick casts his wry eye on a number of situations dealing with alternative lifestyles in this four-scene, two-act pastiche. In Pride and Joy we meet Helene Nadler, mother of three grown children who have told her that they are lesbian, trans-sexual and a leather fetishist, respectively. So, as “the world’s greatest mother,” Helene reveals her thoughts and emotions to a Long Island chapter of the “Parents of Lesbians, Gays, the Transgendered, the Questioning, the Curious, the Creatively Concerned, and Others,” or P.L.G.T.Q.C.C.C. & O. for short.

Mr. Charles, Currently of Palm Beach introduces us to a flamboyant homosexual who informs us that he has been railroaded out of New York City for being “too gay.” He now holds forth on a late, late night cable access show where he regales whoever is watching with his life’s tales, as well as fostering the career of a young hunk named Shane. A third skit shows us a home-crafts aficionado in Decatur, Illinois, who talks about her immersion into her hobby following the death of her son from AIDS. In the final vignette, all of the characters, along with a receptionist from Mr. Charles’ cable show, somehow come together at the maternity ward of a New York City hospital where Nadine’s lesbian daughter and her partner have just had a baby.

Highlights: Rudnick has built an audience with his flair for comedy in such gay-inspired works as Valhalla, Jeffrey and The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told. Here, he lampoons lifestyles in a manner that would be frostily received if written by a straight playwright. His fans appreciate his tone, however, and there are enough moments of amusement for neophytes and others as well.

Other Info: Ted Gregory directs a fine cast in breezy fashion in the current Max & Louie Productions presentation of Rudnick’s effort, which premiered a few years ago on Broadway, although the first two skits were seen earlier as one-act works. It’s a highly uneven evening, with Mr. Charles and the Decatur lady providing the bulk of the laughs, leaving bookends of vignettes that seem strained and unfocused. In each of the scenes, though, the cast does its best to provide entertainment.

Alan Knoll is outrageously hilarious as the over-the-top Mr. Charles, who wears his homosexuality in a brazen style that, he says, offends modern gays. Certainly, the pastel attire provided by costume designer Marci Franklin gives him the appearance of an animated Easter egg, a look enhanced by Knoll’s deliberately exaggerated affectations. Rudnick paints his brand of humor with a broad brushstroke that may appeal to some and turn off others, as evidenced by the opening night audience that often seemed uncertain when or if to laugh.

Peggy Billo provides another splendid characterization as the unassuming Midwestern matron whose affection for kitsch is exceeded only by her love for her late son. She speaks charmingly about creating “something worth dusting,” and mentions that at first she thought the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and elsewhere were the result of “muslin terrorists,” referencing a word that is prominent in her own life.

Stellie Siteman tries valiantly to portray the unsinkable personality of an affluent Jewish New Yorker who rebounds from a series of stark revelations from her children. The excesses of her situation, however, are likely more palatable to some than to others, as I was ready for her wearying skit to end as soon as possible.

Josh Payne is a hoot as Mr. Charles’ much younger companion, Shane, as well as Helene’s hooded son, David, and Elizabeth Graveman nicely contributes as a young mother who desperately wants her baby to live beyond a “black and white world” and move into the Technicolor existence of Mr. Charles.

Patrick Huber’s set design features a shabbily amusing cable access studio as well as a few simple signs projecting other locales such as a crafts room in Decatur or a conference hall on Long Island, with lighting by Glenn Dunn, sound by Mark Griggs and some humorous props by Andria Mantle.

The New Century, which takes its title from a clothing store visited by Shane in Gotham, offers something for everyone or very little for anyone, depending on your point of view. Regardless, it certainly carries Rudnick’s unmistakable stamp.

Play: The New Century

Group: Max & Louie Productions

Venue: COCA Black Box Theatre, 524 Trinity Avenue

Dates: May 16, 17, 18, 19, 20

Tickets: $15-$30; contact 725-6555 or cocastl.org

Rating: A 3.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.

Photos courtesy of John Lamb

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