Soul Invictus Brings More Bad Therapy and Big Laughs with The Golden Gays
Oy, where to start? Well, first, for the sake of clarity, Soul Invictus' The Golden Gays is not presented by our beloved AZ Gender Outlaws -- so, for example, it's neither the same show nor the same performers as this word-for-word drag re-enactment of an episode of The Golden Girls.
Laura Durant Clockwise from top left: Dion Foreman, Joseph A. Gaxiola, Wes Hart, Bronwyn Schile, Tyler Pounds, and James Asimenios wrestle with their inner demons in The Golden Gays.
Whether that makes you more or less anxious to see it is not our problem. But it's a brand-new play, including parody musical production numbers, with a whole lot of dresses on a handful (I wish, right?) of men. Much of its pedigree comes from members of Th [sic] Sense sketch comedy troupe and other Soul Invictus (and old @Pro) shows, like the people who brought us Head: The Musical, so when you're floored by gob-smackingly stunning jokes, visual humor from left field or farther, and characters so richly quirky you have to believe in them, you'll know whom to blame.
Heaven knows it isn't perfect. Despite this being an average-length play with intermission (less than two hours), it felt reeeeally long sometimes, which I'm pretty sure springs from a combo of writing around many of the jokes (sometimes in a rather labored way) and working hard to play characters who aren't especially well-defined (despite their lovable weirdness) before their therapist, Dr. Greenberg (Bronwyn Schile), makes them move in together and dress up. Which is the plot.
Oddly, it might also help this play to be longer, at least on the front side. The introductory premise flies by so expeditiously that it's almost unbelievable, as well as shorting the four leading men, who need to give the audience more grounding in the "real person" layer of their characters.
Schile, who's one of the funniest comedy performers in town, is saddled with a lot of setup and exposition here, and you feel a little sorry for her. However, Greenberg eventually decides to play some bit parts in the runaway sitcom train that is her Drag Therapy invention, and then Schile gets to serve us the smorgasbord in which she shines.
One of the most memorable moments -- and a good example of the kind of humor that just broadsides you during this show -- is a parody of "Everything's Coming Up Roses," which, as you may recall, starts out with the lyrics, "You'll be swell. You'll be great." Greenberg is explaining to an actor she hired to help with the therapy that he'll be playing some of the recurring male characters from the sitcom: "You'll be Miles! You'll be Stan!" Honestly, it's a howler, it's one of many, and I don't want to ruin anything else for you.
Joseph A. Gaxiola, who plays a man named Damian who channels Bea Arthur's character Dorothy, is a real-life drag performer who's never been in a play before, according to his program bio. He's a towering, charming man with marvelous teeth who never seems as bitchy as both his real and fake character are alleged to be, but his emotional range isn't all that different from those of his castmates, each of whom plays to his or her strengths, courtesy of director Bill Dyer.
From the headshot above, you might not think that Dion Foreman is much of a Blanche Devereaux (not that this is supposed to be pageant-quality impersonation). But when you see Foreman's legs encased in shiny black capri leggings, several of your thoughts will go right out the window, and it's also fun to watch the unapologetic promiscuity of both his characters drive the "girls" through one high jink after another.
Tyler Pounds is full of surprises, much like Betty White, whose Rose Nyland is the role his character Roger worships. Pounds manages to create a lot of memorable slapstick and pretty darn good drag on a stage covered with larger-than-life personalities.
Confidential to Wes Hart: I didn't write more about you and James because a) I can't go on all day, and b) spoiler alert!! So please don't unfriend me. You did good.
The Golden Gays continues through Saturday, April 28, at Soul Invictus, 1022 Grand Avenue. Admission is $20 at the door. To book tickets in advance for $15, click here. Call Dyer at 773-733-9427 if you have any questions, within reason.