KPBS AIRDATE: November 29, 1995
It’s not about ‘Bah! Humbug!’ But if you’re up for a bit of a twisted Christmas, have I got two plays for you! Both are about finding and confronting your true identity. But that’s about it for similarities. One is about art and creative freedom; the other concerns dykes and drag queens. Both are good for a laugh, sort of depending what you’re into or up for.
At Diversionary Theatre, “Our Gay Apparel” features a cast-ful of campy characters of the cross-dressing kind: three lesbians, and three guys who comprise “The Extremes,” Supremes impersonators. They all settle in for Christmas Eve at Alice ’s family home in the Adirondacks . We get to see the boys do their Motown thang, we meet a gender-bending Adam and Eve, and we lament poor Alice ’s plight at having to fake a marriage to her gay roommate John so she can come into her trust fund. Well, there’s a blizzard and, unpredictably enough, Alice ’s parents show up. But not without notice. A frantic Alice wails that they have ten minutes to get straight.
So the couples are paired off like heteros, but the guise doesn’t hold up for long, what with Adam doing his sugar-plum fairy routines. In the end, the play fulfills the coming out fantasy of every gay person alive.
The acting is uneven, with the most believable performances by Kristine Agricola as Alice and Paula Pierson as her mother. As heavyweight Eve, Carol Mackintosh has a terrifically light touch with dropdead sarcasm and physical comedy. Her battle with pantyhose is comic inspiration.
David Yoder’s direction is fast-paced and funny. Multi-talented Robert Joseph, playwright and set designer, goes out with a bang, ending his three-year tenure as Diversionary’s artistic director to pursue his creative dreams.
Which segués quite nicely into “Missing Persons,” a highly literate dramedy about being true to your self, artistic or otherwise. Addie, a demanding critic, lives with her son Hat, a poet, and the ghost of his father, also a poet, who walked out of their lives 23 years earlier. The ghost of young Hat is there, too, a smart-alecky 12-year old who, like his father, aspires to be good enough for Addie’s approbation.
Coming to terms with her past helps Addie deal with the present, and her own missing identity, as well as those of her newly divorced son; her laid-off and emotionally lost daughter-in-law, Joan; the stray grocery bagger Joan brings home for Thanksgiving; and an inebriated neighbor widow who’s got the hots for Hat.
Playwright Craig Lucas knows from emotional conflict and dysfunctional families, as we saw two years ago at the Fritz with the quirky “Reckless.” In “Missing Persons,” with all its poetic allusions and lyrical language, some characters and situations are not clearly defined, and director Jack Banning does little to elucidate. The acting is spotty, but the play has a lot to say. About critics who criticize but can’t create. About obsession with Art over consideration or caring. About the “devolution of American values.” And about what families can do to your sense of self-worth, and unearthing your own ‘missing person’ within.
Sally Stockton is just right as the hard-edged Addie, and she plays well off Charlie Riendeau’s hippie-dippy husband. Nick Carin is cute as the kid, and Donn White is an angst-ridden Hat. There are ups and downs in both play and production, but it’s a nice, tart alternative to theatrical fruitcake.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1995 Patté Productions Inc.