Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp Berkshires Review
The Opposite of Sex
By Elyse Sommer
Robert Jess Roth and Douglas J. Cohen's stage adaptation of Don Roos's screenplay has all the snappy dialogue and sly humor at the expense of both homophobes and homosexuals that made the film a hit with those with a penchant for off-beat, outside the genre box comedies. While it may be a bit too precociously dark and edgy but with heart, it works well, and in some ways better, on stage than on screen.
And so the big question about this musical adaptation is how does it sing? The answer is pleasantly but not memorably. Cohen's lyrics, like his and Roth's book, are sharp and smart. However, for the most part the songs, though well sung and expertly arranged by Lynne Shankel, who also makes up half of the 2-piece orchestra, don't really stick to the ear and more often than not seem to interrupt the more entertaining story about the tough Louisiana Lolita a.k.a. Dedee Truitt (Kerry Butler) whose journey from her abusive stepdaddy's graveside to her gay-half brother Bill's (Greg Edelman) home in Indiana upsets his emotional applecart--not to mention that of his lover Matt (David Burtka), whom she handily seduces so that he gets to yearning for "A Normal Life." There's also Lucia (Kairlin Hopkins), the sister of Bill's dead lover Tom who finally connects with Sheriff Carl Tippett (Herndon Lackey), whose romantic hankering for her she's heretofore ignored, and everyone else who crosses Dedee's path.
The mischief-making sexpot is an odd mix of sexual victim and predator, a say and do anything free spirit but also a homophobe typical of the 1970s. However, this makes her an apt conduit for exposing not only her own but all the other characters' mixed-up attidues about AIDS, sexual identity, as well as about love and sex generally (too frightening and troublesome, an unsatisfactory substitute for more substantial pleasures).
Deede is not an easy to like nymphet and neither the movie or the play ever succumbs to the sort of happy ending that would show a heart of gold beating inside that sexy body. Yet, you do end up liking her (well, sort of). What's more, while Dedee may not have an epiphany that prompts her to abandon her bad girl punker persona, her wild card intrusion into their lives does lead to Bill and Lucia being finally able to let go of their grief for Tom (whom Dedee calls "the dead guy") and allow themselves to really feel again and enjoy love.
My so-so response to the music notwithstanding, The Opposite of Sex is the best of this season's three Nikos shows and likely to have a busy life at other regional theaters or perhaps make it to off-Broadway. That's because it does have something on its mind but doesn't clobber you on the head with a moral.
Wearing his director's hat, Roth, aided by a fine creative team, has staged the Nikos production with vim, vigor and vivacity that is boosted by an excellent cast, several of whom are reprising their roles from a previous production at San Francisco's Magic Theater.
One key member of those repeat performers, Kerry Butler, deserves a special award for extraordinary courage and commitment under extreme duress. She fell victim to every actor's worst nightmare on the day I was scheduled to see the show, waking up croaking like a frog rather than trilling like a musical diva. That medical disaster actually made for one of those unforgettable it could only happen in live theater experiences. True to the old theatrical saw, the show did go on, not with an understudy as it would if it were not a brief summer run, but with Butler in costume and lip-synching her dialogue and songs while composer-lyricist Douglas Cohen, perched on a stool at the side of the stage and read and sang the words. The first few lines seeming to come out of Dedee's mouth but in a decidedly masculine voice sounded a bit incongruous and caused a few titters, but a funny thing happened within minutes. Thanks to Butler's impeccably timed lip-synching, Cohen's appealing voice and unobtrusive presence and the rest of the ensemble's carrying on as if nothing unusual was happening, I (and apparently everyone else in the theater), forgot all about the emergency set-up.
Perhaps, if Butler's character were less cheeky and tough and had a lot of romantic ballads to sing instead of lines like "I've got news for you/Mother Theresa doesn't own part of my soul" from her opening number "I've Got News For You," it might have required more of an adjustment on the audience part. All things considered though, the improvised collaboration between Butler and Cohen actually added a special piquancy even though that doesn't mean that I wouldn't love to have time to catch the show with the soaring voice I've heard Butler lend to other roles ( Tracy Turnblatt's best friend Penny in Hair Spray and young Shelley in Batboy).
While Dedee is both narrator and pivotal character, this is as much Bill's, Matt's, Lucia's, Sheriff Carl's and high school dropout Jason Bock's (Lance Rubin) story as hers. As Dedee hserself puts it "I don't have a heart of gold and I don't grow one later, but relax. There's other people a lot nicer coming up--we call them losers." She is the trigger that sets off the various connections and misconnections, crimes and misdemeanors and sends all these more likeable "losers" on a wild cross-country ride, its stopovers and means of transportation cleverly concocted into a sort of giant, psychedelic scenic monolopy board (bravo to set designer Derek McLane), so that only a few roll-out props are needed.
As if there wasn't excitement from Matt and Dedee's elopement, her stealing $10,000 to pay for the birth of her baby (oh, didn't I mention that she's pregnant?!?) and the urn with Tom's ashes from Bill, a false molestation charge by Matt's jealous other lover, And yes, there really is a gun which Dedee pulls out right at the beginning with the announcement that " it's foreshadowing."
The likeable Greg Edelman is just right as low-key, emotionally guarded half-brother Bill for whom handsome young Matt is only a band aid for the pain over Tom's death from AIDS. Kaitlin Hopkins as another of the walking wounded, gets some of the funniest and most ironic line as when she counters Matt's declaration that he's bisexual with "Puh-lease! I went to a bar mitzvah once. That doesn't make me Jewish." Also contributing standout work is Ian Scott McGregor as, amongst others, Dedee's hapless, bible thumping ex-boyfriend Randy and Herndon Lackey as the love struck Sheriff.
Even without a great score, The Opposite of Sex is worth catching. It's the opposite of standard issue comedy.