Opening Nights

OMNIUM-GATHERUM

ACT Theatre; ends Sat., Nov. 1

As the fluttery, Martha Stewart-like hostess orchestrates the presentation of the amuse-bouche ("mouth amusement"), the urbane, Edward Said-like professor tells the dinner guests that if the globe could be shrunk to just 100 people, then six Americans would own 59 percent of humanity's wealth. "Oh, no!" bellows the bellicose, Tom Clancy-like reactionary spy novelist, "is this that?!" (Meaning, "that old, clich├ęd liberal canard.")

The answer is yes and no. Yes, there's an awfully familiar ring to the many political/ cultural arguments posed at the post-9/11 New York dinner party dreamed up by playwrights Theresa Rebeck and Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros in Omnium-Gatherum. (The term is jocose faux Latin for "a gathering of all kinds of things"a hodgepodge.) The Said guy defends enlightened Islam; the Clancy guy defends social Darwinism; the hostess defends Martha Stewart living. A surprise terrorist guest defends benighted Islam; an uppity Oxbridge drunk defends uppity drunkenness. A pissy vegan feminist, an African-American writer, and a genially dim fireman round out the party.

Their chat gets nowhere, offers no news, and paints cutouts, not characters. The play is shapeless, wandering, plotless, and derivative of an omnium-gatherum of classic chatfests from No Exit to Top Girls.

And yet, the Clancy guy is utterly wrong to think he's in for a bore. Naughty and deft, it fetches more laughs than the Rep's fine Misalliance. It's lighter than a William Hamilton New Yorker cartoon, peppy as a great TV sitcom (with a surrealist sting in the tail). Even lines that aren't all that funny score nicely, borne aloft by ace timing and bubbly euphoria-with-a-hint-of-panic. The twin New York Times titans Frank Rich and Ben Brantley were right to write opposite reviews: The play is a flop to those who think Issues (Rich), a triumph to those who feel Theatre (Brantley).

Every party is a contest. My kudos, in descending order, go to Eddie Levi Lee as the braying Clancy asshole, Kent Broadhurst as the increasingly blotto highbrow, Joseph Kamal as the Said peacemaker, and Mari Nelson as the testy, kvetchy vegan. Cynthia Jones is sweet as the writer, David Drummond sweeter as the fireman, and Dennis Mosley effectively menacing as the terrorist; but these roles are clinkers. As the hostess, Marianne Owen is chipper, if lacking Martha-esque fangshe's an amuse-bouche. So is the playno classicbut Jon Jory's production may be more fun than any dinner party you'll attend this year. TIM APPELO

PARTY

Northwest Actors Studio; ends Sun., Nov. 9

I paid $7.50 to watch Madonna mount Willem Dafoe on broken glass in Body of Evidence, but I've never been so embarrassed about being gay as I was upon considering that some homo might actually plunk down $25 just to catch the nudity in this plastic, prefab baby Boys in the Band. David Dillon's hollow script is so plainly written around the eventual full-cast, full-frontal nudity that the experience just becomes unsavory instead of sexy.

The plot, if I may use so bold a term, concerns a partythus the clever titleat which a group of gay friends gathers to play an ornate, naughty version of Truth or Dare. And that's it. The actors plop their ripe bare asses onto the divan, and you sit there thinking, "Does someone shampoo the furniture before the next show?" Even if you swallow the idea that gay men desire to play Truth or Dare with their longtime friends, you can't stomach it as presented here. Director Rick Andersen has treated each of the "Truth" monologues as though they were hypnotic. Every time a character launches into a mawkish revelationand someone is always launching into a mawkish revelationeveryone else on stage turns mechanically toward him and freezes in place. I don't know about you, but if I'm at a gathering where someone starts talking about his childhood, the first thing I do is reach for my beer.

Worse, the play is blatantly about a particular kind of theatrical, East Coast homosexualI can't tell you the last time I was at a sex party where someone put on Patti LuPone to set the mooda fact the production gets around by injecting local references. Thanks to this ingenious method, Ray (Chris Maltby), the bitchy priest (?), now quips that he only favors the death penalty for "Manson, Gacy, and Tim Eyman" (insert knowing regional laugh here). The show also Mad Libs in Tacoma, Capitol Hill, and the Seattle Art Museum, all of which are enunciated with a subtlety that may crack one of your ribs. Among the rather tepid cast, Maltby has some fun in his stereotypically "showy" role and earns a few laughs, but he isn't allowed to be human. He is, however, allowed to be nude. STEVE WIECKING

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