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A CurtainUp Review
by Eric Beckson
While there is music and singing drawn from classic musicals, Joy is not a musical. No song is rendered in its entirety. At times just a few lines from Cole Porter suffice, either a cappella or with piano accompaniment.
In addition to singing there is a fair amount of dancing, low brow humor, and men in drag. The result is a vaudevillian atmosphere that is surprisingly conventional and tame. Itís also too long. Twenty minutes less and there would be no need for an intermissionóor the insanely long line for the mensí bathroom.
The least credible relationship of the three couples is Corey (Ken Barnett) and Christian (Ben Curtis). Corey, at age 31, is a tenured professor, an Oscar winner, and a two time Pulitzer winner. His credentials are as extraordinary as the stupidity of the student with whom he falls in love. Like the familiar cut-out in a formulaic sit-com, Christian is the show's idiot idiot. Both frustrating and pleasing to Corey, Christian is a young trisexual (he'll try anything once) who has trouble committing to a gay or monogamous relationship. (Not only an idiot idiot, he is a slut slut.)
Paul (Paul Whitthorne), an angry young student of Corey's, is writing a dissertation to prove that Jesus was gay. (Doesn't Jesus say he loves Paul?) Belying his own conflict (never clarified), he uses the word faggot frequently and harshly. All hostility is abated when he falls in love with the closeted Gabriel (Christopher Sloan) who at first denies that he is gay (to the great amusement of the audience), but readily changes his tune when pursued. In no time they are madly in love and living together.
In a parallel plot line, Kegan (January LaVoy), a sexually inexperienced lesbian, aggressively pursues the object of her affection, Elsa (Ryan Kelly), who happens to be a friend of Gabriel. The audience enjoys the irony of Paul and Gabriel shacking up almost overnight as opposed to Kegan and Elsa waiting for almost a year, contrary to the implication of the old joke, what does a lesbian bring to a second date? A U-Haul; and the gay manís corollary of that joke: what second date?
Despite the fast pace, we never really care too much about any of the characters. We never understand them enough to care. A play about gay sex, as opposed to gay people, turns out to be a lot less interesting than we thought it would be. Sex as the possibility of creative life may be an idea worth exploring. But at the expense of characterization, and as a non premise, it fails to qualify as the principal structure necessary to sustain the interest of a broad audience.
Providing the essential ťlan is a cast of multitalented actors. Paul Whitthorne, through effective asides to the audience, provides an emcee flavor to the proceedings, at times dictating the amusing mime of the characters. Christopher Sloan has a superb singing voice, paying elegant tribute to Cole Porter. He also possesses the comic flare to portray the young man who is most obviously gay but last to admit it.
January LaVoy, as the pursuer, projects positive energy and enthusiasm. She clearly knows what she wants and is determined to get it (always helpful in any scene). Ryan Kelly, as the pursued and reluctant partner, is convincing, seductive, and the one actor I could fantasize as being straight (see, there's something for everyone).
Ken Barnett really does resemble the part of an exceedingly intelligent young professor, but his role is confining. Ben Curtis, who is known nationally through his commercial work as The Dell Dude elicits countless belly laughs from the audience for his moronic, monosyllabic utterances and muggings.
Michael Busillo, as Darryl, adeptly plays the role of the interloper. He and Ryan Kelly perform a comical dance routine as scantily clad Native Americans. For the life of me, I cannot remember the pretext. But if you must know. . .yes, it seems that the big chief has been working out.
$65 a ticket at the cramped, unembellished Actorsí Playhouse seems aggressive. Is it the supply/demand imbalance for gay theater in Manhattan, or just out of control downtown rents? Either way, thatís a a lot of wampum.
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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