Published in Gay and Lesbian Times March 21, 2003
Put sex in the title and you’re sure to draw sellout crowds. This is at least the fourth time the homeless-and-much-missed Fritz Theatre has mounted “Sexual Perversity,” David Mamet’s first Off Broadway endeavor, penned in 1976. Artistic director Duane Daniels has poked and prodded, stroked and penetrated the piece, but he’s come back to cross-gender casting, which is probably the best position for humor and satire.
This is the 70s single scene in all its garish glory. It was a time when men were (macho) men and women were… well, as Mamet just about always sees them — demanding, bitchy sperm receptacles with big boobs (the bigger, the better). Those godawful guys come off pretty funny when they’re played by women, though, and their gross anatomy-gawking looks even shallower and stupider out of the mouths of babes. The females never fare too well in Mamet-land; these are as dimensionless as any. But Daniels has cast well (though his cast is uncredited in the program) and directed with panache (no one knows this play better). Deja Bleu Ginsberg is spot-on and unremittingly funny as Bernie, the crass braggart who never seems to live up to his conquest stories, while his lower-key buddy, Dan (likable Landon Vaughn), scores the artistic Deborah (a funny-fey Christopher White). When they move in together, the broad-bashing Bernie and man-hating Joan (sweet-ish Julie Ann Compton) manage to destroy the relationship. Dated in some ways — though not quite as much as one would hope, the play still stands up to scrutiny, though it peters out at the end.
Part three of the triple-header is “Sisters,” a loud, dark, relentless 20-minute drama by Gerald Zipper. Jyl Kaneshiro is bitter, sinister Annie, who visits her comatose sister Meg in order to unleash a lifetime of resentment. Somewhere in the middle of her tirade, backed by an annoying soundscape, Meg rises and vents (in reality or in someone’s imagination? Do we care?). The acting is a bit overblown (Shannon Lynn Diana alternates with Laura Bozanich as Meg), the direction (Al Germani) is overly intense, repeatedly highlighting the histrionics, and the play is creepy, repetitive and ultimately unsatisfying. It proves a downbeat ending to an otherwise amusing and engaging evening.
Sandwiched between the comic spewing of one play and the gut-spilling of another is a hilarious new comedy that’s as uproarious on the stage as the page. Local playwright Craig Abernethy has written “State of the Art” with a wink, a nudge and a lot of allusions to the illusion of theater. Backstage comedies are always entertaining, but this plunges headlong into the creative process, taking place in the writer’s mind. Three characters (the id, ego and superego?? The mind-body-spirit? The 3 mental stooges?) work out a script while they work out. Robert May’s direction is as witty as the text. He has his talented cast — Robin Christ, Ken Oberlander and Jessica John — doing all kinds of physical calisthenics while they do the mental aerobics of creating a play. Christ does everything from pushups to a headstand — using her upended feet to underscore discussion points. She’s a flexible, malleable hoot, an energetic/frenetic life-force. The other two are her wonderful foils, Oberlander as critic, John as ingénue. They put their heads together “process-wise,” to figure out “what we’re doing, do-wise,” and determine what’s going to happen in the play, “place-wise,” “less-is-more-wise,” and most certainly, “spoof-wise” (they refer to Pirandello before the audience can). The theater talk is side-splitting (they define a director as “an easily threatened cretin that tells everyone where to stand”). They get caught up in the process and after they “begin the beginning,” and hammer out a middle, they can’t quite figure out the ending. Same with the playwright. “This is what we do,” they keep proclaiming. They remind us that the crucial collaborative element of theater can’t be taken too far: “Compromise here, compromise there. Pretty soon, what’ve you got? Television.” For a new play and production, this is thoroughly appealing — state of the art writing, acting, directing and theater.
The Fritz triple-header runs at 6th @ Penn Theatre Mondays-Thursdays at 7:30pm, through March 27; 619-688-9210.
©2003 Patté Productions Inc.