Norwegian Dramatist Rolls in Grave
It doesn’t matter much what critics say about Theatre Couture’s Doll (P.S.122). This immolation of A Doll’s House will find an eager audience of drag fans and barflies despite any bad reviews. (If they’re really bad, it’ll pack ’em in.) And more discerning viewers will remain unenlightened by anything some egghead has to say about this send-up, which is stuffed with references to Valley of the Dolls and The Stepford Wives and relies on ancient groaners like—NORA: “I’ll bet you smoked after sex.” KRISTINE: “I don’t know, I never checked!” In a time-dishonored tradition, Theatre Couture does what they do, not because they have a passion for 19th-century Norwegian drama, or even theater, but because drag queens and trannies must be superstars and wear outrageous getups.
Sherry Vine first appears as Nora Helmer in a platinum blond wig, a skin-tight spandex micro-dress (enabling you to see the outline of her corset), and pearlescent stockings. Later she changes to a candy-apple red, floor-length gown with a white Christmas tree at the chest and a chain belt with rhinestone balls hanging at the ends, prancing around in clear plastic stiletto heels. Candis Cayne, as Kristine Linde, appears braless in a beaded, see-through lavender minidress with silver bows at its half-sleeve cuffs, a purple-feathered shawl, gold sandals, and rhinestone earrings. Then, for Miss Cayne’s showstopping break-dance routine, she quickly switches to a gold minidress with extralong red fringe. For the Christmas ball, Miss Vine garners applause for an all-white, floor-length evening dress with biomorphic glitter patterns, soon augmented by a hilarious fishing-net shawl complete with white crabs and lobsters, also crusted with silver. For the finale, in which Miss Vine attempts to sing “Goodbye to You,” the queen works a fire-engine red silk bathrobe and hip-hugging velour cocktail dress with matching scarf, and a Barbara Eden wig with a streak of fuchsia. She accessorizes with a pink plastic lunchbox inlaid with fake leopard-skin panels. The outfits are by designer David Dalrymple, of tranny boutique Patricia Field. As for the play, one grows to resent it for distracting from the clothes. —James Hannaham
Hostess Jan, passing around a tray of Diet Cokes and “whore d’oeuvres,” smiles beatifically and explains, “I believe God intended all his children to be good suckers, or else why would he have given us mouths.” The party guests chime in with “Or cocks. Or pussies. Or titties. Or assholes.” Sounds like the amen corner could use a cold shower and some saltpeter.
In Sportfuckers (TNC), playwright Jack Bump’s encomium to suburban obscenity, four couples discuss church business, potato salad, and network TV—often slipping into the back room to “suck, fuck, and run amok” in ever changing combinations. (A scrim, some outsize prostheses, and dirty shadow play ensure we see every last tongue flick.)
It’s all in terrible taste: from the props and costumes (does the Three’s Company back lot know they’ve been raided?) to the trite dialogue, from the “buh-low-me sandwiches” Jan serves to the plastic buttocks her husband wears. And let’s not even address the sight of a corpulent preacher in dog collar and fuchsia nightie. But Bump (a/k/a the Alien Comic, Conrad Rheims, or Tom Murrin) makes this unattractiveness purposeful. The endless bouts of intercourse have no pretense at sexiness, nor does the pedantic prose make any attempt at wit—unless you find “I like me a good mammary whack” particularly droll. This achieves a double effect: It points out the failure of sex as social panacea, and ends up being very funny—in the so-bad-it’s-good school of comedy. It sucks pretty well. —Alexis Soloski
An Apartheid Youth
A massive brown wall looms on a bare stage in The Syringa Tree (Playhouse 91). The empty, dusty floor confirms we’re in a rough and barren world. From out of this sterile space, however, writer-performer Pamela Gien reaps vivid stories, as she gracefully sways in a swing. Though a one-woman show, the piece’s scope is large: Gien plays 28 South African characters, weaving the tale of two families—one white, one black—across four generations, ranging from the early apartheid era to the present day. A first-rate actress, Gien flips comfortably from a chatty, hyperactive lass, to a charming, devoted mother, to a loud, hardy father, to a throaty-voiced maid. Most of these transitions are surprisingly smooth.
Six-year-old Elizabeth narrates. Through her innocent eyes, South Africa is depicted with simple grandeur. While her memories celebrate the chirping of crickets or the berries from a syringa tree, they also reveal a country where crocodiles lurk in bushes, babies wilt with dehydration, and people murder in cold blood. Set amid the grim reality of racial conflicts during the ’60s, the play focuses on questions of South African national identity. “When are you going back to your country, madam?” blurts out a black servant. “This is my country,” snaps the white lady of the house.
The emotional weighs more heavily than the political in The Syringa Tree; Gien gives the impression she’s wrenched the play from her guts. That might explain why the text suffers from the mistake nostalgic expatriates often make—overromanticizing their past. Fortunately, director Larry Moss prevents the production from falling into bathos. With his guidance, the people and plot are so subtly acted that their sweetness never cloys. And in her effort to capture so much of South African society, Gien seems as brave as many of her characters. —Christiane Riera Salomon
Nada on the Brink
Once again, Ludlow Street’s Nada faces a rent crisis, though this time it may be a fatal one. The venerable downtown theater incubator needs to pay up more than $18,000 in back rent by October 17, or the landlord and city marshal will boot the theater from its space. (To be replaced, no doubt, by yet another bar where young Upper West Siders can spill Cosmopolitans on themselves while letting loose loud, New Economy guffaws.) In a last-ditch effort to raise the cash, artistic directors Aaron Beall and Ian Hill have scheduled an emergency benefit for Monday, October 16. On tap: a stage version of It’s a Wonderful Life, featuring members of the Drama Dept., Target Margin, Elevator Repair Service, Danse Macabre, and Gemini Collisionworks. Doors open at 7 p.m., the show is at 8:30, and a donation of any size gets you in. 167 Ludlow Street, 212-420-1466.