No Regrets at RTP

 

I wanted to find a deeper message in Paul Rudnick’s play “Regrets Only” now playing at RTP, but Director, Jerry Williams chided me that it just isn’t there.  “It is a silly, flighty drawing room comedy.  It ain’t deep,” Williams said during a phone interview last week.  Well, fine, Jerry!  But I will argue that the premise of the play, the argument for gay marriage is an important topic.  The fact that Rudnick just might have hidden a deeper message under the thin veneer of shallow arguments and definitions of marriage is beside the point.

The action centers around society maven, Tibby McCullough (Melissa Johnston Price) and her BFF, a gay fashion designer named Hank Hadley (Joe Pabst).  Tibby is as out of reality as a woman can be, totally focused on looks and charity events.  She and Hank love to go to these events, see and be seen and dish on all the society folks afterwards.  The play opens when Hank arrives at Tibby’s swank New York apartment, (gorgeously designed by David Allan Ballas) his first outing since the death of his long-time partner.  While Hank and Tibby are planning which charity events to attend that evening, Tibby’s husband, Jack (Michael Hawk) and daughter, Spencer (Liz Blake), take a job working for President George W. Busch, writing policy defining marriage as an institution appropriate strictly for a man and a woman.  A touchy conversation begins, periodically interrupted by the McCullough’s eccentric maid, Myra Kesselman (Jacqueline O’Connor). Hilarity ensues.

So here I go looking for meaning…

“What is up with the maid’s character?”, I wondered.  At first I found her interruptions annoying as she would pop in at odd points in the play pretending to be some new incarnation of herself, at one point Irish at another a red neck woman and so on.  Then right at a critical point in a discussion about the gay marriage, she enters stage left with a black cloth over her head and a rosary in her hands like a nun.  She then begins a schtick about being a bride of Christ.  I thought the timing interesting.  It is often the religious right contingent that most violently opposes gay marriage, yet by strictly defining marriage as a state of union attainable only by a man and a woman the government would be disengaging a marriage sanctioned by the Christian church- that sacred union, a marriage, between nuns and Jesus.  I found the irony quite poignant but Williams insisted I was reaching too far for Rudnick’s style.  He went on to explain that the actress who originated the role was a friend of Rudnick’s and that he wrote her in to give her something fun to do.  Whatever.

However, I admit, Williams has a point in that the fluff was piled on pretty thick.  One of Tibby’s most important lines in the play is, “I want the biggest Drag Queen in the world to say, ‘Honey, too much!’.” It summarizes her most cherished goal in life which is to always be the image of a Hank Hadley ad. (Sort of like my goal to be the woman in the Ralph Lauren, Chanel or Calvin Klein ad. I totally understand that about Tibby. In fact when I lived in New York, if I was having a bad day I would go up to the Ralph Lauren flagship store and walk around a la Holly Golightly at Tiffany’s thinking, “Nothing bad could possibly happen to me here in Ralph world.”  But I digress.)

To drive William’s point even further, Rudnick’s definition of marriage offered through Spencer, a lawyer, is as lame as they come.  Spencer, representing the law here, defines marriage as co-habitating people who are sexually faithful to each other and have children together.  God forbid all those people who are married with out children or are married without living in the same house or have dallied with sexual partners outside of their marriage for whatever reasons are not actually married!  Anyway, you get the point.

Then, Hank decides to do something about the situation and starts a nation wide “gay stay home day” in an effort to what?  Maybe show oblivious straight people how important gays are to our lives? (Like who doesn’t know that already?) All Broadway shows are shut down, there are no florists or hairdressers or key people in the government.  It is all so meaningless in terms of the gay marriage issue except that  Spencer’s wedding is in danger of not happening because of the lack of gays to put it on.  Someone figure that one out and get back to me, please.

“There are definitely flaws in the structure but it is really funny,” Williams retorted.

He is right.  There were several side splitters in the script.

Pabst and Price have a scintillating chemistry, so much so it is difficult to believe this is their first show together. They each toss out pithy one liners with the poise and finesse of regular sparring partners often sending the audience into peels of laughter. Although the rest of the cast are adept in their roles, the reason to see the play is the PP dynamic.

In a show with fashion as such a strong theme, costumes are very important.  They were very good but D. Mark Souza’s creations failed to reach the mark of Haute high fashion one might expect from a Hank Hadley design. I suspect much of this had to do with budget rather than talent, however.  A standout design is Tibby’s red gown she wears at the opening of the show.  The styling and details demonstrated creativity and class.  Spencer’s wedding gown is also quite beautiful in its elegance.

Regardless of the presence or lack of message, the structure issues and the questionable appearances of Myra the maid, “Regrets Only” is a laugh filled frolic into the surface existence of New York high society- and after these last few years of belt tightening for so many, who couldn’t use a little of that? Plus if you miss it you might also miss out on the ever important message given by Tibby’s mother, Marietta Claypoole (Donna van Winkle) when she advises everyone to marry a gay person.

Like Williams told me (quoting movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn in his second sentence), “It is a very funny play and people will laugh.  If you want to send a message, call Western Union.”

But I prefer Tibby’s last line of the play better to summarize why one should go see “Regrets Only”:

“I WANT CAKE!”

…and cake it is, sweet, calorie filled, void of brain food yet satisfying.

Go get yourself a slice.

 

For more information on Richmond Triangle Players production of “Regrets Only” click here.

 

 

 

 

 

Rocky Reviewed

Terence Sullivan and Rocky Horror Cast Anticipate A Night Out to Remember for a Very Long Time

I can remember doing the Time Warp….way back before Jase Smith and his collection of usual suspects got a hold of it and made the older version (the one in the film) look as sensual as a pencil. Yep, the new version of THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW delivered a lot of Smith’s re-vamped, ramped up, sexy-for-the-21st-century, vision as discussed in the pre-opening article I wrote for Richmond’s STYLE WEEKLY but some last minute doubts, a confusing set design and a mis-cast keeps this show from being the utter sensation it could be.

Let’s start with something chocolicious in the form of Joy Newsome who plays a sassy, sensual Magenta. Her song styling of the opening number, “Science Fiction Double Feature” lets the regular Frankie Fans (you know who you are) understand that this show will be different from the RHS you know but you can still love it. How could you not?  Newsome seduces with her sexy soulful sound and stripper choreography, a “Jackson” crotch grab coming on the last crescendo.  I was all in.

Then there was a little too much crotch grabbing too early in the play which sort of demystified the shock value of the act and maybe, just maybe jaded the audience a little. We need to be titillate by the crotch grabbing rather than bored by it.  But I digress…

Choreographer Maggie Marlin makes molten moves for the leather and mesh clad groupies making the scene at Frank N Furter’s sex club, The Castle, the setting Smith chose for his upgraded RHS.  They undulate and mock copulate all over the place with some kicks, spins and twists thrown in for good measure, the sexual energy perfectly tempered with utter wildness and/or flowing softness where appropriate. (HaHaHa, I just used the word appropriate in this story.) Particularly inspired is her version of “The Time Warp” so different from the standard now danced at weddings yet so true to the message and lyrics PLUS she mashed it with Madonna’s “Vogue” which totally worked in the “club” atmosphere, providing another type of time warp experience altogether. It was just so hot- I LOVED it.

Michael Hawke as the Narrator brings a mature man hotness to the role. He did play Rocky Horror in his younger days and well, he has still got it.  His Narrator is intense yet funny but towards the end of the show he gets a little too intense, rushes through his lines a bit and falls into a bad habit of dropping some words into unintelligible land.  This issue should be erased as the show continues its run and Hawke gets more comfortable with his ending speeches.

In great voice and kicking ass as the punk rocker version of Riff Raff is Nicholas Alife.

He personifies the tightly wound angst of that music genre and nails that punk styling in his songs.

Aly Wepplo and Nick Shakelford make a great Brad and Janet.  He is nerdy and goofy with a Beavis and Butthead physicality that totally works in the dynamic between his lack of lust to Janet’s looming lust.  In other words, Brad is stuck in a quixotic sophomoric mindset and he never quite goes the distance with his desire for sexual exploration as does …

Wepplo’s sexually awakening, Janet. Janet is much more freewheeling than I have ever seen her. She seems to “get it” almost from the beginning – maybe a tad too much too soon. But  Her lust IS so sincere and particularly well portrayed in during “Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch -A Me” were she is ALL over Chris Hester’s (Rocky Horror) mostly naked bod on top of a bondage table. (Lucky girl!) So that at the end the audience is unsure whether Brad and Janet are really going to go through with the marriage as there is an obvious discrepancy in their sex drives.

Smith’s idea of using drugs as the catalyst for the groupies to worship Frank is a thought provoking concept. As anyone who has any inkling about addiction and how it can drive people perform all manner of degrading acts it makes total sense for Rocky to be formed into Frank’s willing sex slave through a need for Frank’s special alien powder- and to actually enjoy it as many addicts seem to embrace punishment as part of the addiction cycle.  This concept was apparently dropped last week making Hester’s Rocky a brainless idiot, victim without context  – way too docile and complaisant and often cutesy (I love you, Chris, Honey but man it up a little here, please).  Rocky seems to just sort of bumble through the play, often running to cower in his go-go cage rather than simply running out the door of the club. It just doesn’t fly. The statement on gay marriage was also weakened with this extra victimized Rocky as the audience is at a total loss as to why he is participating in it at all, cheapening the idea that two sober consenting people of the same gender should be allowed to be married if they wish (a statement I thought Smith wanted to make- I could be wrong).

Neither did the set make a clear statement.  It was awkward for the actors and the audience as it was often unclear whether characters were in the club or out of the club unless you really knew the story.  But it did have some cool smoked glass doors that allowed for some fun shadow play and the extension built for the show gave some fun added room for Marlin to play with.

But the most painful flaw of the show was a casting gaff in which an obviously talented, Maggie Horan was misused as Columbia. The role is simply incorrect for her as a fresh ingenue type who sings (rather than being a singer who acts).  Columbia as a character is a skanky, drug- loving whore who falls madly in love with Frank, then Frank’s next plaything, Eddie.  She is the codependent female version of Frank, a self deprecating, pleasure seeker looking for approval from people who will fail to give it for long.  Horan is a sweet faced wisp of a thing who is just so adorable that in her provocative costume one might suppose Annie Warbucks fell into the set of CABARET and sang the the sexy title song as if it were “Tomorrow”, all smiles and warm fuzzies.(that might actually be hilarious to see on stage)  The problem is most apparent during “Round Like A Record” a ballad added to the show where Columbia is supposed to be exposing her inner dialog of having her fill of Frank and his emotional abuses.  There were giggles instead of tears form the audience because rather than heart-wrenching the song came off as light  “Oh well-it’ll-be- Ok-golly-gee-ish” kind of way. Her singing voice, though perfectly competent was overshadowed by the powerhouses in the cast adding to the diminishment of the character. But her valiant attempt at filling Columbia’s tap shoes made me sure I would enjoy seeing Horan in a role better suited to her talents.

The stars of the show were clearly the Sullivans.  Terence Sullivan stood out above all on the stage both literally and figuratively.  At something like 6’10” in his spiked out heals he lorded over the other actors. Operatically trained, his clear tenor singing voice boomed over the audience while his manipulation of the character produced a varied and engaging Frank N Furter.  Scantily clad in Holly Sulllivan’s (no relation) magnificently tawdry costume designs he makes Frank his own, really blossoming in the second act with “Wise up, Janet Weiss” and invoking tears from several audience members with his moving rendition of “I’m Coming Home”, sung while decked in a ostrich plume collar, gently swaying on a swing. (I get choked up just thinking about it.)

If there is ever a dull second in the show one can marvel over Ms. Sullivan’s costumes which look like a parade of this season’s hottest S&M collection. Lots of strappy, meshy, leathery, spiky little nothings up there on stage making for good food for naughty thoughts.

One other stand out moment that must be mentioned is another added song sung by Shakelford called, “Once in a While” where three band members come onto the stage to accompany him.  It is just a really fun moment.  The scruffy sweet band members in contrast to this half dressed guy singing a tender ballad- you get it.

Overall there is much more to marvel over in this show than to gripe about.  It is not perfect but it is really good and totally fun for RHS virgins and sluts. It is the fifth, and on of  the best, of Jase’s Naughty Firehouse Summer Musical Theater Camp for Wayward Actors productions so get your leather on and go see it.  Besides, Smith challenges us fans to stretch our perceptions of the story while indulging us in a little traditional Time Warp Action at the end. Why would you want to miss out on that?

Who knows you might get so hot and bothered with this sexy summer sizzler that you would be inspired to explore a little more, more, more, more in some intimate areas of your ….life.

Sullivan brings it home in fishnets,fringe and ostrich plumes                                                                     photos by Jay Paul

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