New Times Broward-Palm Beach
December 17, 2008
I do not like Mart Crowley anymore. Crowley is the old queen who rocketed to worldwide fame and acclaim with the 1968 play The Boys in the Band — and who spent the next 40 years trying to remain, and occasionally succeeding at remaining, relevant. According to Sol's director, Robert Hooker, Crowley gave a big fuck you three weeks ago to Fort Lauderdale's tiny Sol Theatre Project, in an apparently groundless fit of pique and vanity. Barely a week before Sol's big opening night of Crowley's For Reasons That Remain Unclear, Crowley checked out Sol's cluttered, DIY-looking website, soltheatre.com. He took one look at the site's advertisement for his play and allegedly said, "Uh-uh. I will not let these dirty hippies mangle my work." Or something like that. He withdrew the rights.
And to be fair, Sol's website is intentionally the theatrical equivalent of Johnny Rotten's old stage ensembles: all rags, stains, and safety pins. This is misleading, because at worst, Sol's output is only about 10 percent trashy. It is also 10 percent warmth, 10 percent talent, 20 percent balls, and 50 percent invention. If Sol is the SoFla theater most likely to mangle Mart Crowley's work, it's also the most likely to mangle it ingeniously.
Crowley didn't know this, and in his ignorance, he left Sol with no December play and a big stack of outstanding bills. So: Fuck you, Mart Crowley. And also: God bless you. If he hadn't given Sol the shaft, you would not now be reading a review of Jeff Goode's The Reindeer Monologues.
Sol's actors learned, rehearsed, and produced The Reindeer Monologues in just two weeks, and that's about how long it's running. Monologues opened last Friday and will run through Sunday, December 27, with no breaks or interruptions. That's ten straight days of theater that libertines, perverts, and heathens shouldn't miss; an explosion of holiday cheer so bewilderingly wrong that Baby Jesus may decide to stay in the womb this year.
The Reindeer Monologues features all eight of Santa's reindeer, summoned to the stage one by one to discuss the terrible allegations recently made by Vixen against their boss. Apparently, randy old Saint Nick raped her in the toyshop. Some reindeer claim it never happened, couldn't have happened. Others express their suspicions with the awkward exhilaration of recent apostates, uttering their first, tentative bits of blasphemy. Still others don't give a (flying?) fuck — it's an honor to be on the team.
The eight reindeer are played by four actors, with three of the four female roles going to Julia Clearwood. She handles them with the same lusty felicity with which she always dispatches her comic roles, hitting the floorboards with the energy of Tina Turner and working the crowd until everyone within eyeshot is rapt. In Monologues, her method has bled over to the rest of the cast. Maybe it's because Monologues enjoyed so little rehearsal, but Jim Gibbons and Angel Perez play Dasher, Comet, Prancer and Cupid with a gusto and delight that is absolutely un-fakeable: they treat Monologues like a compelling novelty, which goes a long way toward helping audiences feel the same way.
The weirdest actor in Sol's stable is Daivd (pronounced "David") Tarryn-Grae, who cannot help but steal any show that puts him in a dress. This is just such a show: He is the last reindeer you'll see, Vixen herself, played as sort of a Hedwig with hooves. From Tarryn-Grae, you'll learn about Mrs. Claus' pasty collection and her hideous, inhuman treatment of elves, and you'll learn more than you ever cared to know about the real nature of Santa's relationship with Rudolph. Some folks might find their Christmas spirit un-enhanced by such tabloid-ready tidbits, but Sol doesn't care. Perverts need their festivities, too.
In one of those terrible Orwellian twists, the critical superlatives "quirky" and "offbeat" have become anything but and do not imply anything weirder than impishness. But Mezzulah, 1946, which premiered last weekend at Florida Stage, deserves those adjectives. It is offbeat — the story sprawls and soars in unexpected ways, getting bigger, grander, and, yeah, quirkier by the scene. One shows up expecting a standard-brand tale of female empowerment, and nothing in any properly succinct synopsis could possibly tell a prospective audience just how much bigger and better it is.
Here's such a synopsis: Mezzulah is a 19-year-old girl in Monroe, Washington, who dropped out of school to work in an airplane factory during WWII and held onto her job after the boys came home. She's the only female in the factory, and because she had to ditch school for the job, it seems that her dream of designing airplanes may never come to fruition. Worse, she may also be kicked off the assembly line. Lots of men are out of work.
Will Mezzulah design planes? Will her widowed mum find true love? Will Rosie's female friends regain the independence they discovered in the war years? These are the initial questions posed by the play, and they are both hideously dull and, as it turns out, totally beside the point. Vastly more interesting, unanticipated questions soon dominate the drama: Why is Mezzulah's dead daddy hanging around his cemetery, and why doesn't he have shoes? And what's up with this strange, ghost-like woman who lugs a trunk full of broken china everywhere she goes? Will poor, shy Suzannah Hart ever let her husband read her poetry? And, dear Christ, isn't it about time for Mezzulah's friend Sally Cauley to have that baby? She's painfully, outrageously pregnant — she looks like a snake that ate a bowling ball.
These questions won't exactly decide the fate of the free world, but they do inspire a lot of interest. Thank playwright Michele Lowe, whose writing gains strength and vibrancy the more ambitious she gets; the tale actually becomes more focused every time she drags a new plotline into the story. And thank a stunning cast (composed largely of theatrical carpetbaggers down from New York or someplace), which populates Lowe's Monroe with characters as real and surprising as life.