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A CurtainUp Berkshires Review

The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told

Peter Bartlett's outrageous and outrageously funny portrayal of an unfashionably "nelly" character named Mr. Charles was a standout of this year's Marathon '98 (link) Festival of new One-Act plays in New York. Now he brings what my colleague Les Gutman described as "unrestrained joy" to several devilishly funny new characters in the Most Fabulous Story Ever Told, and with equally hilarious results. The fabulous story in which he co-stars is a culturally inclusive revision of the Old Testament.

Welcome to playwright Paul Rudnick's often politically incorrect and, at first glance, strictly stereotypical gay world. To quote once again from Les Gutman's review of Mr. Charles, Currently of Palm Beach, "Rudnick's writing is neither trite nor superficial, no mean feat considering the subject matter. is neither an exercise in gay camp or just a piece of candy (although pretty delicious)." That statement applies, but even more so, to this full length world premiere.

With his usual suitcase full of rib-tickling jokes and zany merriment, Rudnick has invented a God-like, high-tech stage manager (Dana Fisher) to move us through the cycle of life seen through his thoroughly 90s lens. After we watch the creation and meet history's first lovers, Adam (Alan Tudyk) ) and Eve -- oops, I mean Adam and Steve (Bobby Cannavale) -- two of the most endearing and amusing Lesbians to have sprung from a writer's pen, Jane (Becky Ann Baker) and Mabel (Jessica Hecht ), also make their appearance in Eden. You see, in Rudnick's Eden, same sex love precedes the "norm" and his revisionist Old Testament manages to transform what at times seems like a take-off on a bunch of old old Johnny Carson show skits so that they are funnier and as fresh and flavorful as a just baked loaf of bread.

While this review started out with praises for Peter Bartlett, his colleagues deserve bouquets as well. Jessica Hecht, whose vulnerable and funny Lala Levy in The Last Night of Ballyhoo, (see link at end), sticks in my memory reprises those qualities as the God-seeking Mabel. Becky Ann Baker, who contributed similar strengths to both the Off-Off and Off-Broadway revivals of June Moon, (see link at end), is terrific as Mabel''s "bull dyke" partner who finds herself the unwilling carrier of the baby borne of the Adam-Steve-Jane-Mable love and friendship quadrangle. The scene during which she delivers that baby rates that favorite cliche in the critic's lexicon -- tour d'force.

As centuries spin by and we follow the dizzying trail from the Garden of Eden to the 1998 Eden we know as Central Park other members of the excellent ensemble appear in various guises. The already mentioned Peter Bartlett has a grand old time. He hops onto the Ark as one of two rabbits. He next appears as a glittery gold Pharoh whose God-like stance causes Adam to ask "If you're really God, why are you wearing so much eye makeup?" and, most memorably, as a Connecticut Wasp named Trey Pomfret who annually plays Santa in a homeless shelter.

Others who paddle their canoes through life's waterway of conflicting beliefs with Adam and Steve, Jane and Mabel and Trey include: Maggie Moore playing half a dozen characters, including a disabled Lesbian Rabbi; Michael Wiggins who starts out as a priest, turns into Moses (in an itty-bitty skirt and tallith) and completes his cycle of life as a bikini-clad GoGo dancer; and Michi Barall whose last of four personalities is that of the modern Adam's assistant in a liberal upper West Side school. Unlike the Mormons encountered in Tony Kushner's Angels In America fantasia, her Peggy from Utah is as perky a Mormon as you're ever going to meet.

This current world premiere, despite its versatile and handsome staging, is still something of a work in progress with a few too many over-the-top spots in the first act and an excess of polemics in the second. Yet there's little ground for a statement made in an interview by Mr. Rudnick that he fears he might become "a lounge act, a funny gay writer about AIDS". With his longtime collaborator Christopher Ashley at the helm and this ensemble of actors to invest the stereotypical with sparkling originality, The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told is a fitting follow-up to his best-known play, Jeffrey. A tuck here, and a tuck there could well make it a fabulous success when it moves from its brief stay on the Nikos Stage to its anticipated winter engagement at the New York Theatre Workshop.

Humor has long been the means for daring to look at large, serious issues. That's why this thought-provoking serio-comic look at the questions that have challenged Adam and Eve -- or Steve -- and all humankind since the creation, should continue to leave us thinking as well as laughing no matter what our sexual orientation: Is there a God? If not God, who or what do we believe in? And how do we cope with the trials sent our way whether in Eden, or ancient Egypt or in New York?

Before closing, a caveat emptorfor all who prefer their actors fully dressed and sexual intercourse, simulated or otherwise, left to the imagination: The first act includes nudity (though not frontal) and a scene showing simulated act of male intercourse. The language generally is not for the children's hour.

Mr. Charles
The Last Night At Ballyhoo
June Moon

By Paul Rudnick,
Directed by Christopher Ashley
Starring: Becky Ann Baker, Bobby Cannavale,Jessica Hecht and Alan Tudyk; with Michi Barall, Peter Bartlett, Dara Fisher and Michael Wiggins.
Sets: Michael Brown
Costumes: Marion Williams
Lights: Rui Rita
Sound: Kurt B. Kellenberger
Nikos Stage, Williamstown Theatre Festival 1000 Main Street, Williamstown, MA (413/597-3400) web address Performances 7/1/98-7/12/98; 7/02/98
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer

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