This past weekend I indulged my theatre habit in a way I haven’t since before I started this blog. I saw one show twice and another show thrice.
I won’t have time to write a review of “Edges,” but I enjoyed all three performances that I saw of it, especially since co-workers from my day job accompanied me to two of them. I heard something new and satisfying every time.
I hadn’t planned on seeing “A Night in Vegas” more than once, but the first time, Friday night, made me laugh a lot, both during the show and in the car again on the way home. On Sunday afternoon I realized that I had time to tuck another viewing of “Vegas” in between the two “Edges” performances, so I went for it.
Both shows were running last weekend at Theatre on the Square. “Edges” has closed, but “Vegas” continues through Saturday, January 31, 2009.
“Vegas” is TOTS’ annual “naked boy in January show.” It contains male nudity and stories of gay relationships. Men kiss, hump, and snuggle each other. If any of that offends you, well, then you probably shouldn’t go.
You also probably should not read the rest of this review. I’m going to use the “p” word, for example. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
However, some of the biggest laughs and the pithiest food for thought in the show come from things that either have nothing to do with being gay or which transcend sexual orientation. The playwright, Joe Marshall, explores a wide variety of expressions of love, sex, and affection within the homosexual framework. Director Ron Spencer, assisted by John Fullam, and the cast bring the stories to life with humor that is more layered than mere campiness.
The setting is “a room in a low-end Vegas hotel,” skillfully designed and imaginatively lit by director Ron Spencer. Five vignettes take place in this setting, making room 1417 one of the characters, as my friend David observed when I was telling him about it.
One of the reasons I wanted to see this show again was that one of the men shows his penis. It is beautiful! All of the men disrobe to some extent and are attractive in one way or another. Several actors whose work I had admired in other shows but whom I had not necessarily thought of as hot are oh-my-goodness-hot in this show. The men I already thought of as hot are all the more so here.
The man sitting next to me at my first viewing – Allen or Alan – wanted me to tell you that the show is a “twinkfest.” I am not sure, exactly, what “twink” means, but I think it means a sexy, young, gay man.
However, it might also mean total idiot. In the first story, a 20-year-old man, Josh (Patrick Mullen), wakes up in bed with a 40-something-year-old man, Tim (Jeff Reeves), that he doesn’t remember meeting. Josh also can’t remember how they got to Vegas in the first place or what they have been doing together for the past two days. He is disgusted with himself but even more disgusted with this man who is “old enough to be my father.” He goes on and on about it. Never mind that the older man is sweet, still gorgeous, and, ultimately, a very good friend to him.
“You wanted my character to get laid!” actor Jeff Reeves said to me when I was talking to him about the show afterwards.
Yes. Yes, I did. Laid and loved. I wished the playwright, Joe Marshall, had found a way to make that happen, if not between the older man and the twink, then between the older man and someone who could fully appreciate him.
Ah, well. I laughed a lot at this scene anyway. Two of Tim’s feisty friends (Dannon Crews and Doug Messinger) are in the room, too, and their messing with the young man and with each other is a hoot. One of my favorite lines is “What happened, honey? Did you wake up with some morals?”
The second vignette is quieter and more serious. It is about two intoxicating, but very different, men (Thom Turner and Ben Snyder) who just met in the hotel bar. Snyder’s character had been left stranded by his date. Turner’s character was too drunk to drive him home, but since he was visiting from Tucson, he offered to share his hotel room instead, just to sleep.
Or so they both say, but of course they really want to have sex. A certain amount of processing and negotiating has to go on first, though.
I was surprised by how efficient it was. Even though they were struggling, each person said what he needed to say, and stayed put to hear what the other had to say. Lust merged with love – or at least the promise of love – very neatly and relatively easily. That was as much of a turn-on for me as the two men themselves. I wondered, wistfully, if conversations like that ever happen in real life.
My table-mate, Allen/Alan, leaned over and whispered, “That scene was a tower of tensions.”
(Later, at intermission, I tried to encourage A to start his own theatre reviews blog or at least to leave a detailed comment/review on mine. Maybe he will!)
In another vignette, two well-established and loving couples interact, with results that left me weak and refreshed from laughing so hard. Jay Hemphill’s character is partner to Doug Messinger’s. Messinger’s character is deaf and a little mischievous, a little sensitive. They sign to each other, with Hemphill’s character speaking enough so that non-signing members of the audience can follow their conversation.
The other couple is their friends, played by Thom Turner and Jeff Reeves. Turner’s character is blind, with “attitude.”
The blind man and the deaf man…well, maybe they don’t hate each other, but they don’t like each other much either. And when the other two men leave them alone for a few moments, the wrong kind of sparks fly. Oh, my goodness, I am laughing out loud again, remembering.
In the fourth vignette, Nan Macy and Dan Flahive play the parents of a gay man who is getting married that day. They have come to Vegas to walk him down the aisle and meet the love of his life. Macy’s intensely emotional character, Helen, is on the phone, first talking with their daughter and then with their son, using up tissues and insisting she is “fine!” even though she is not. Flahive’s relatively stoic character, Jack, is doing the crossword puzzle in the local paper in between yelling at his wife to get off the phone. They have been married a long, long time, for better and for worse.
This is a mostly funny vignette, but I was touched by it, too. Parents act crazy sometimes out of caring.
The final vignette is about a very cute, very…precise…very…okay, very prissy couple (played by Jay Hemphill and Dannon Crews) who have been together for eight years. They have come to Vegas for a vacation. It was a long drive, though, so after they unpack, they decide to take a nap before hitting the pool or the casino.
Silly boys, thinking they could get some rest in this hotel room. A dyslexic prostitute (Patrick Mullen) who loves his job knocks on the door by mistake and it’s all a downhill riot from there.
I usually hate to go through a receiving line after a show because I want some time to sit with my reactions before I have to share them, but after the second time I saw “A Night in Vegas,” I came out of the theatre eager to go down the line and hug everyone. It is such a funny show and everyone is so good in it!
I also enjoyed the cleverly fitting pre-show and scene change music. The sound design is by the director, Ron Spencer. Between two of the scenes there is also an excerpt from a recording of comedian Bill Scott. I’d like to hear a whole show by him some day.
Diane McGuire was in charge of properties. James Trofatter, the technical director, was also in charge of set construction and scenic art. The hotel room’s wallpaper and framed decorations are perfectly hotel-esque. The mini gambling machine on the table is just right, too. But I especially loved the Nevada newspaper that Jack (Dan Flahive) reads during the parent scene.
Stephen Hollenbeck designed the costumes, including a lovely mother-of-the-bride dress, several hotel staff uniforms, and a pair of strategically-slashed jeans.
I wondered if Hollenbeck had also designed the leather, collar-like accessory that Jeff Reeves pulls out of his briefs, or if that is something from the actor’s own wardrobe. I also wondered: does something like that HURT to wear or is it more like wearing a bra?
“A Night in Vegas” continues on Stage Two of Theatre on the Square through Saturday, January 31, 2009. Please call 317-685-TOTS (8687) to make reservation.
Hope Baugh – http://www.indytheatrehabit.com