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Flipping Out

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The love that dare not speak its name? Hardly. At the Marigny Theater, that amorous predilection often shouts its name to the rafters. Recently, To Do Productions gave us three one-acts about being gay. At issue was not so much the fact of erotic attraction to people of the same sex, but rather the style that has grown up around it. Where did "camp" come from? What does it mean? Mr. Charles (Michael Catrillo), the protagonist of the first one-act, swept onto the stage, wearing some sort of diaphanous, black shawl. "Hello, darlings," he effused, as though he was returning from a coronation as Her Flipness. This set the tone for the evening: the paradox of camp glamor, which can be so much fun and yet, perhaps, can also become a prison.

Mister Charles Currently of Palm Beach by Paul Rudnick is an entertaining trifle in which the title character performs his TV show for us and for a small video camera on a tripod. He has a sidekick named Shane (Jacob Stroman), who acts as a foil to the effusions of the star. Shane has a sad-sack, not-quite-rough-trade way about him. He shuffles around in costumes (like army fatigues and super hero tights) and punctures the diva's grandiloquence with deadpan quips. The gay super hero, needless to say, doesn't save people from criminals, but from bad taste.

Mr. Charles feels he himself is a throwback. "Today's homosexuals," he laments, "find me an embarrassment." Nowadays, when cowboys grope one another on the big screen and fierce battles rage in legislatures and court rooms over the possible gender of husband and wife, nelly mannerisms are as passŽ as Nehru jackets. So Mr. Charles says, but he doesn't believe it for a minute. He's madly in love with being gay.

Cornbread, the second one-act was written by Dennis Monn (who also directed all three plays). Cornbread is more a character study than a plot-driven drama. Maw Maw Jean, the central character, is an aging, lonely woman, delightfully brought to life by Donnie Jay.

Now, when gender confusion is running rampant and seems to be one of the issues -- perhaps the main issue -- of an evening, what does one make of a woman played by a man? Are we to take this character as a woman or as a man? Let's call it "nontraditional casting" and say Maw Maw is a woman. Otherwise, we're lost in an astounding labyrinth of gender.

Anyway, Maw Maw natters around her tacky little home in a dress, pearls and an apron. She cooks for and fusses over the young people who stop by (Paul Cowgill, Jacob Stroman, Moose Jackson and Dennis Monn). A dark family past hangs over this place: children, grandchildren, a no-good father, gloom, conflicts, corruption. This web of sorrows is sensed, more than understood.

The drama settles on a hitchhiker, who in fact has nothing to do with the family. He dines on one of Maw Maw's famous hearty meals, steals some money from her, then dances with her in a courtly sort of way and kisses her goodbye.

The play was well performed. It left me oddly moved. But I can't say I have a clear idea what it was about.

In the last one-act, The Madness of Lady Bright by Lanford Wilson, we returned to the theme of campiness first broached by Mister Charles, but here we see the dark side of Nelly-ana. Lady Bright (Paul Cowgill) is a transvestite. He has, like Charles, molded an identity on flip glamour. But in Lady Bright's world (which seems to have shrunk into a single apartment), things have gotten dreary. Lady Bright is a drag hustler, who has seen better days. Now, she's alone, trapped, losing it. Dial-A-Prayer is about all the faith she can muster. In fact, Lady clings to the telephone like a lifeline, but it fails her. No one is ever home. No one answers her calls -- except American Airlines, and that was a wrong number. Nor do her memories offer a refuge. All that remains of her lovers are their autographs scrawled on the wall. The camp bravado is crumpling under the relentless assault of age. "Gay" is starting to seem like a clever Orwellian cosmetic applied to heart-rending insults like "faggot" and "queer."

Two symbolic figures, a man and a woman (Michael Castrillo and Cammie West) enter from the wings intermittently to echo and comment on Lady Bright's disintegration. They add variety to what would otherwise be a monologue, but also seem somewhat arbitrary.

Three On The Edge was a mixed bag, but an entertaining evening overall. We look forward to To Do's future productions.

Cornbread  is a one-act character study of - eccentric Maw Maw Jean (Donny Jay) as she entertains - family and an uninvited guest.
  • Cornbread is a one-act character study of eccentric Maw Maw Jean (Donny Jay) as she entertains family and an uninvited guest.

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