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THEATER REVIEWS

Queer eye strain

Current productions of two Paul Rudnick plays have some glaring weaknesses.

September 12, 2003|Daryl H. Miller | Times Staff Writer

Paul Rudnick is a humorist, certainly, and something of a sociologist as well. His studies of urban mating rituals -- particularly those of gay men -- indicate that love is entirely too complicated nowadays.

His 1993 play "Jeffrey," about a guy so freaked out about AIDS that he swears off sex, remains relevant, while the 1998 comedy "The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told" delves into the lives of present-day lesbians and gay men torn between a footloose life (cruising and gyms) and domesticity (marriage and parenthood).

Current productions of both shows might offer a fascinating study of Rudnick's worldview, if only the presentations were more finessed. Though lively and often laugh-out-loud funny, the Spy Ants' staging of "Most Fabulous Story" isn't all that it could be, while Hollywood Fight Club Productions' "Jeffrey" is outright incompetent.

"Most Fabulous Story" is a sassy retort to all those old-school moralists who are so fond of saying, "God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve." The first, more fabulous act retells the Old Testament through the adventures of -- you guessed it -- Adam and Steve and their lesbian pals Jane and Mabel. The second act -- which unfolds at a Christmas party at Adam and Steve's loft in present-day Manhattan -- looks at how those Bible stories are holding up.

It's an elaborate joke that, almost in spite of itself, ends up saying something. Between one-liners, it ponders the values and beliefs that shape society's treatment of gays and lesbians, while demonstrating how today's gay community is prompting people to rethink those rules.

Nervous and prone to over-analysis, Eric Bunton's hyperventilating Adam is as adorable as he is infuriating, while Brett Hren's Steve is calmly capable and self-assured. They are well matched by Darcy Halsey's ethereal, idealistic Mabel and Anastasia Zavaro's rugged, no-nonsense Jane. Proceeding two-by- two through biblical history, they make many of the same mistakes as their storied counterparts

This production modestly drapes cloth over the much-talked-about nudity in the New York production; the scandalously blue language remains. Tammara J. Wright directs with wry insight; however, the meager visuals, awkwardly configured theater and uneven supporting performances cause this Noah's Ark of a comedy to spring a leak.

The Fight Club's "Jeffrey" offers a 10th-anniversary look back at an idiosyncratic play that keeps jump-cutting to fantasy segments as it wanders through Manhattan gyms, gay pride parades and AIDS clinics.

In Randy Spire, who plays Jeffrey, and Rawling Curtis, as the man who coaxes him out of celibacy, the production has a pair of actors with charisma if as-yet-undeveloped acting skills. (You know you're in trouble when the lead actor's program bio reveals, "Randy's acting career is still in its infancy.") The rest of the performers just seem awkward and self-conscious as they move about a cramped, almost bare stage in what appear to be their street clothes.

Shane Morton has directed with obviously earnest intentions, but his staging is such a mess -- with gaps yawning open between scenes and sometimes between lines -- that it fails to put across any sort of message. Even Rudnick's sure-fire laugh lines fall flat.

After Sunday, a new cast and director replace this crew.

*

'The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told'

Where: Elephant Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood

When: Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m.

Ends: Sept. 28

Price: $17

Contact: (323) 860-8786

Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

*

'Jeffrey'

Where: Hollywood Fight Club, 6767 W. Sunset Blvd., Suite 6, Hollywood

When: Fridays, 9 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m.

This Sunday only, 2 and 7 p.m.

Ends: Sept. 28

Price: $12

Contact: (323) 465-0800

Running time: 2 hours

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