Sunday, May 24, 2009

Beyond the Yellow Brick Road

I went on Friday night to the midnight show of a new play being presented by Wings, a gay theater company on Christopher Street in Manhattan.

This is the plot, as recounted on the show's web site:

"Possible Nobel-Prize-winning head of the Department of Hydraulic Engineering at M.I.T. runs away from it all to build a shrine to Judy Garland because she 'knew life'. His mother, the world most renowned Freudian psychoanalyst, hunts him down pleading for him to return: 'to give up the eyelashes and go back into analysis'. Meanwhile, a religious fanatic bursts in and tries to convert them both but is set upon by the mother who uses her 'industrial strength sensitivity training' developed in her book 'Secularization for Dummies' and literally rebirths the Bible thumper on stage turning him into the 'perfectly analyzed man'. The show is best described as an outrageous Joe Orton dark satirical comedy with the Marx Brothers mixed in."

Well ... I think that's the show I saw, but I'm not certain. More on that in a moment.

I was told about this show by a friend of mine who's absolutely queer for Judy Garland. JG is a supposed gay icon -- there was even some ridiculous story about how gays rioted during the Stonewall rebellion because of Garland's death or some nonsense -- but as I told my friend, the first time I ever had a conversation abut Garland in a gay bar was when I met him about two years ago. [Actually the first time I had a conversation about the lady in a gay bar was with the straight-identified bartender at Boots and Saddle, whom I later came to refer to [with some affection] as "the malevolent munchkin". A subconscious connection I suppose. Anyway I used to enjoy the plays at the Ridiculous Theater company and thought this might be along those lines so I said "let's go!"

I don't know if my friend was hoping to see a play about Garland. This is really a play about a drag queen obsessed with Garland -- it has fun with stereotypes. The play was written by the two lead actors, Michael L Natale [pictured], who plays the drag queen, and John L. Wood, who plays his mother. [John O'Neil played the religious zealot.] I always love it when drag queens are, or at least are played by, guys who are kind of butch even when they're in drag; it's an amusing gender-bender.

We waited almost fifteen minutes for the play to start, and at first I thought that it was some kind of guerrilla theater. This is the play, I told my friend as I looked at the empty stage. Someone in front of me pointed out a table with a cocktail glass and several prescription bottles on it and said, "Look -- her last meal" a bit of black humor that I found funny but my friend did not.

Now let me confess right here that I had one cocktail and two glasses of wine with dinner. I also had another drink at the Ramrod across the street, and frankly I think if New York Times reviewers made a full disclosure of how much they imbibed before they went to the preview it might explain their opinions more fully. So take this with a grain of salt -- or a glass or two.

Now I'm not certain if this was really part of the show or not, but apparently the actor playing the mother -- with huge false boobs and a fright wig, making him resemble Mammy Yokum of Li'l Abner -- kept going off script or ad libbing. He even apologized at the end of the play, although the ad libs were always funny and added to the amusement. So, as I said, I'm not even certain if I actually saw the play as scripted, but I had fun anyway. Besides this is a farce and ad libbing is always part of the action. [Although the real drama may have occured in the dressing room after the play was over, LOL!]

At one point Natale turned to the audience and said: "So you wanna be in show business, eh? This is what always fucking happens!" Then he turned to his co-star and said "You wrote the fucking thing. Just pick out a part in the script. Any part!"

Before long the religious zealot came on and Mother made her moves on him, boobs and all, which wound up with them sort of wrestling across the floor of the stage. "No wonder I'm gay!" screamed Natale.

Okay, you've got the idea that this is not a gay version of Long Day's Journey Into Night, but it is a lot of fun, and frankly, you never know what you're gonna get. You might even see the actual play! It has one more performance at Wings [154 Christopher Street] this coming Friday, May 29th at Midnight [okay technically that's May 30th, but it's Friday night, okay?] and then Natale and company hope to take it on the road or find another home for it.

I like Natale very much as a performer. He has a natural born flair for comedy. I also got a kick out of Wood and O'Neil. The tickets are only $15 for over an hour of fun. If you wear a costume you'll get in for a measly $12 and you might even be asked to play a role in the show.

For more info and to order tickets you can go to the Wings website or the play's website.

Here's my suggestion. Have dinner at Fedora's Italian restaurant at 239 W 4th Street [212-242-9691]. They take reservations up until 9:30 PM.I recommend the chicken parmigiana, which is very tasty. They also have the best Roquefort dressing I've ever had. Very gay-friendly, nice waiters, and owner Fedora is a sweetheart. Inexpensive, too.

You'll have time to kill after dinner, so walk down toward the theater and have a drink across the street at the Ramrod, which used to be called the Dug Out (but which was originally called the Ramrod). The new manager there is handsome Robert, who is also manager of Boots and Saddle and used to be a waiter at Fedora's.

And of course you can also stop at Ty's bar on Christopher Street if you can get in -- as it tends to be packed on the weekends [and full of hot guys!]


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