Who does not envy Paul Rudnick’s career? He made a name for himself writing Off-Broadway comedies (which only happens in the movies), transitioned smoothly to Hollywood (which only happens in plays), walked the critical side of the fence under the pseudonym Libby Gelman-Waxner, and penned several openly gay hit films (which doesn’t happen). In the meantime, Rudnick hasn’t abandoned the New York stage for L.A.’s bounty, nor has he been condemned as a sellout. His last Off-Broadway foray, 1998’s Christmas pageant The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told, managed to escape the ire of both hate groups and homosexual theatergoers—more than you can say for Corpus Christi.
Aside from his sharp wit, the key to Rudnick’s success in film has been good-naturedness. He displays a boundless willingness to play to the centrists, for whom he tones everything down expertly, turning kinky sex into a parlor game and blasphemy into a belly laugh. When writing for the masses, Rudnick uses homosexuality as an opportunity for a new twist on bedroom farce. Assuming that, as a gay man, Rudnick has gay interests in mind, the by-products of sidestepping the more difficult problems of queers in society is tolerance lite. That’s a start, certainly, and there are worse strategies for achieving this aim.
So the question arises, as the brazenly well-connected Drama Dept. produces Rudnick’s triptych Rude Entertainment: Why does such a successful—and presumably wealthy— writer bother returning to cramped downtown venues when his talents are better suited to cinematic romps? The answer: because Rudnick is a big queen who can strand his inner diva in Peoria for only so long before she bursts out of the celluloid closet. In Rude Entertainment‘s first segment, “Mr. Charles, Formerly of Palm Beach,” the caftan-clad, martini-brandishing Peter Bartlett proudly swishes to center stage as the eponymous cable-access host, a foppish analogue to Scott Thompson’s barfly Buddy Dean. “What causes homosexuality?” asks Mr. Charles. “I do!” he shouts. “Sometimes I stroll through maternity wards just to upset new parents.” Clearly, Rudnick has not seasoned these routines for the heterosexual palate.
Following the flamboyant Mr. Charles comes an extended sketch, “Very Special Needs,” about a wealthy gay couple who adopt an 11-year-old Eastern European refugee, only to have what appears to be a fortyish woman pretending to be the “Slomakian” Katrinka show up at their Tribeca loft. As the waif, Harriet Harris gives a wacky performance that keeps you from predicting the situation’s very amusing payoff. The piece is packed with zingers and absurd gags—Katrinka’s “doll” is a plastic leg named “Leg”—that add up to a stronger commentary on New York’s real estate market than the riskier targets of the satire, gay marriage and adoption.
In the final vignette, “On the Fence,” Eleanor Roosevelt arrives at Matthew Shepard’s death scene to convince him that he’s died and to shuttle him off to the afterlife. When this task proves too difficult for such an unassailable celebrity, she brings in Paul Lynde (whom Bartlett mimics perfectly) to finish the job. It’s as muddy as it sounds. This one-act makes most sense as Rudnick’s surreal attempt to reconcile his own concerns: gay rights, Hollywood history, humanitarian-ism, and just plain bitchiness. Several moments are very effective, though, including a strident point about getting politically involved, punctuated with firearms.”Maybe the world is divided into two types of people— those who can actually kill someone and those who just want to,” Shepard muses. Could it be that the good-natured Rudnick is turning over a new leaf?
Dave Gorman is just as affable and quippy as Rudnick, but with a much smaller range. His only concern is his own name. A hit at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, his show Are You Dave Gorman? chronicles his obsession with finding other men called Dave Gorman. He began the search after a drunken bet with his roommate. Now he claims he’ll travel to any part of the world harboring a reported Dave Gorman, spots so far including various parts of England, Italy, France, Scotland, Norway, and New York. The obsession is an end in itself, neither a search for identity nor a mysterious connection between namesakes. Instead, he pursues Dave Gormans with the dissociative aura of a trainspotter, made all the more eerie by his glassy eyes. Once he finds a Dave Gorman who’ll agree to meet him, Gorman takes a Polaroid with the man and records his voice saying, “Hello, my name is Dave Gorman.” Then he divides his mileage by the number of Dave Gormans he’s met, to calculate the Miles Per Dave Gorman.
As with Rudnick, the real point of the show isn’t the journey he describes, fascinating only for the lengths to which he’ll go, but Gorman’s supersonic delivery and single-mindedness. He’ll give you $50 to change your name to Dave Gorman, $60 if you’re female. He’ll pay you to name your child Dave Gorman. He wants you to find more Dave Gormans; he claims that’s the real reason he put the show together. He won’t stop until he fulfills a plan worthy of a Radiohead lyric: to obliterate himself by giving everyone else his name. By the end of the show, Dave Gorman has achieved something remarkable: He’s barked his name a hundred times without letting anyone know who he really is.