Curtains: An Extra Week of Nudity in Stray Cat's The Play About the Naked Guy in Tempe
Oh, democracy, democracy, is there anything you can't do? In the plot of David Bell's The Play About the Naked Guy, only two of the three remaining diehard members of The Integrity Players (an off-off-Broadway financial sinkhole of a Serious Theater Company) choose to merge with the producers of a series of live softcore gay-friendly musical pastiche-taculars (okay, longest genre name ever -- somebody help me out) to keep their heads above water, but two out of three is a majority that enables curiously plausible high jinks to ensue.
In a little case of life imitating art imitating life, this play was called The Gay Naked Play in its original 2004 incarnation -- the current title is, go figure, more commercial. Oh, it's still plenty gay. I left NYC in 1989, but apparently the place just stayed nice and sparkly without me, which I find a huge relief.
Except that I've never met anyone with the scrilla to pay rent on a performance space just to keep her daughter safe and happy in the big scary city, as Susan Anderson (Johanna Carlisle) does for The Integrity Players, the events of the play are spot-on about how new art gets made (and as with sausage and legislation, once you've found out, you risk losing your taste for it). Artistic director Dan (Louis Farber) becomes a voice in the wilderness. No one's on his side any more, not even his wife, Anderson's daughter Amanda (the adorable Emily Rubin).
Anderson meets her match in Eddie Russini (Doug Loynd), the leader of the profit-driven gay army, and together they become a Diva Force to be reckoned with. Every character in this play has at least one strong motivation that secretly conflicts with his or her façade, except for Russini -- he's long since made his peace with cheese, but he's still enthusiastic enough about his work to find challenge and delight in his new colleagues.
Director Damon Dering brings lovely, balanced performances out of all eight actors, taking them over the top (they are playing theater people, after all) while making their energy and flash come from real, believable places. A few times, howlingly funny dialogue (with which the script is packed, whether you're in on all the jokes or not) is lost upstage in quick, low-key exchanges, but most of the show is right in your face. (I can't remember whether this venue -- the small Tempe Performing Arts Center, just north of ASU -- is typically an acoustic black hole, but architecturally, it definitely has that potential.)
Samuel E. Wilkes, who was pretty damn amazing a few years back in Fatal Attraction: A Greek Tragedy, stands out, along with Michael Thompson, an ASU senior, as bookend twink designers T. Scott and Edonis. They scream, they drink, they snap, they vogue, and they are as much under the spell of chiseled star Kit Swagger (Marc Rambeau) as everyone else (except poor, idealistic Dan).
I was quite happy, in general, with Andre Noss' costume designs. There's a tech-week montage in which T. Scott and Edonis wear coordinating animal-print-trimmed one-shouldered capri overalls (none of that was a typo) apparently just because they thought it would be fun. Because they aren't actually costumes in the play-within-the-play; they're just the characters' clothes. Their work clothes, I guess. The more I think about it, the more twisted, hysterical sense it makes, and I'm so glad it got the green light from whoever gave it.
Now, one of my print counterparts in town has already gone on and on (the second link tends to crash Intenet Explorer, but it is a real story, so use a different browser if you're interested) about nudity onstage, and I don't care to do that here. I just want to point out that this play's title is a dreadful tease, like the 1990 Edinburgh Festival Fringe show that was called Sleep With Me mostly so that they could paste up flyers everywhere that read "Sleep With Me -- £5." For nine months, I've been watching naked people for you all (you're welcome), and in the case of The Play About the Naked Guy, it's too brief, too little, and too late. (That's what she said.) But, seriously, it works within the structure of the storyline, and you should still leave the kids at home.
Stray Cat Theatre presents presents The Play About the Naked Guy through Saturday, March 6, at Tempe Performing Arts Center, 132 East Sixth Street. You may order tickets, $15 to $20, here, or call 480-820-8022. The show is selling out, so to speak, as quickly as one might expect, so make your plans soon!