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The New Century

a Comedy
CATEGORY :
by Paul Rudnick

COMPANY : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
ID# 3181

SHOWING : October 23, 2008 - November 22, 2008

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

The jokes don’t stop and the laughs land hard in this hysterical new bonbon from comic mastermind Paul Rudnick (Jeffrey, In & Out). Comedy sparks fly when a wealthy Jewish matron, a flamboyant public access TV host and a Midwestern scrapbooker/competitive cake decorator take on Manhattan. The New York Times raves, "The one-liners fly like rockets in The New Century, and they hit their targets smoking." The New Century promises to be the comedy event of the fall and will leave a laugh in your belly and a smile in your heart.


CAST & CREW LIST
Director Alan Kilpatrick
Lighting Designer Elisabeth Cooper
Sound Designer Mimi Epstein
Scenic Designer Phillip Male
Costume Designer Nyrobi Moss
Helene LaLa Cochran
Mr. Charles Don Finney
Shane Stan Gentry
Barbara Ellen Shelly McCook
Joann Annie York
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

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So Last Year
by Dedalus
Monday, December 8, 2008
2.5
12/8 Comment -- I apologize for this one "slipping through the cracks: between Theatre Buzz and here. I actually wrote it less than a day after seeing it on 11/13. At least my lukewarm response didn't scare away any potential viewers.


Paul Rudnick’s celebration of the people who love gay people, “The New Century,” is half of a really good show. The first act, made up of three seemingly unrelated monologues, is funny, moving, well-acted, and insightful into the ambivalencies surrounding gay identity and acceptance of loved ones who are, um, “different” (or “special”). Then, Act II brings them all together in a hard-to-swallow contrived scene which adds absolutely nothing to any of their stories, and which undercuts all the wonderful insights that came before by showing how superficial, irritating, and stereotyped these people can be.

Make no mistake, Paul Rudnick (“Jeffrey,” “In & Out,” “Valhalla”) can write cracker-jack dialog that surprises and amuses. I found myself laughing out loud often, and, of course, there’s nothing wrong with that. He is also very good at creating memorable characters. Here, the three principals are played by three professionals at the peak of their abilities -- LaLa Cochran (fresh off her Suzi win), Don Finney (seemingly channeling Bert Lahr by way of Paul Lynde), and Shelly McCook (in full Crafty-Mouse mode); they bring these characters alive, and, for a while, made me care about them, flaws and all. (Minor characters are played by Actors Express interns Stan Gentry and Annie York, who, though competent, look bland and characterless in the company of the three dynamos in the leads.)

Where Mr. Rudnick fails is letting these characters be true to themselves. If he had let the play end with the three monologues, it would have been so much better. But he forces them into that contrived Act II, a scene in which Prada trumps Pestilence and in which style-with-no-substance is the answer to the world’s problems. His deep and fully flawed characters are suddenly stereotypes embodying all the campy superficiality the “straight” world has come to expect. And he does it with a fraction of the laughs found in Act I. This play ended on a note that made me sad and angry, one that made me wonder if his “New Century” isn’t really a throwback to the closeted years so idolized by Mr. Charles (Don Finney).

It also characterizes by exclusion – yes, it’s believable (and understandable) that Mr. Charles would consider gays who avoid camp, who try to “blend in” as “not being gay enough.” But does Mr. Rudnick have to take the same attitude? Judging by Act II, he does. And, especially compared to last year’s marvelous “Some Men,” that took a more inclusive “tapestry” approach, it’s galling. When a character holds her baby son, dressed in outrageous faux-camp elegance, but we see it for the doll it is, it’s awkward, it’s dumb, and it makes everyone on stage look foolish.

Just to take a break from my venting, here’s a recap. In “Pride and Joy,” LaLa Cochran plays Helene, a Jewish Mother from Long Island with three outrageously “out there” children. She kvetches to us, but her love for them is extreme, and, in a funny conclusion, she milks the situation for all the benefit she can. In “Mr. Charles,” Don Finney is a Palm Beach Talk Show host, an over-the-top Campmeister who was “thrown out of New York’ for being too-retro-gay for the new century. He minces, he nellies, he kvetches, and he drools over Shane, his dim-bulb boy toy. And, being Don Finney, he wows us with a “history of Gay Theatre” montage that is funny, virtuostically extravagant, and surprising; and it ends with a kicker of a punch line. Finally, in “Crafty,” Shelly McCook shows us Barbara Ellen, a Decatur IL housewife with a penchant for crafts (her website is “gluetube.com”). But, underlying her wry observations and comments, is a deep sadness – she lost a son to AIDS, her husband is, well, elsewhere, and it’s obvious she uses crafts as a defense mechanism (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

I won’t bore you with the details of Act II (“The New Century”) other than to say that all these characters are thrown together in a New York Maternity Ward and spend the (thankfully short) Act doing stuff and saying stuff that isn’t funny, isn’t relevant, and contradicts everything we’ve come to know about them. At one point Helene accuses Chad of being in denial, of being shallow, for preferring a Discount Boutique to Ground Zero, then two seconds later is drooling over the prospect of a new handbag. I wanted to scream. Worse, I wanted to pelt Mr. Rudnick with something soft and smelly (which I could probably get from Helene’s youngest son). Finally, at the end, we’re treated to a pointless coda that takes too long to set up, that firmly embeds all the characters in superficiality, and that, frankly, turns them all from characters I liked and respected to people I’d cross the street to avoid.

So, will you have a good time at “The New Century?” Probably. To be sure, others in the small audience I was with seemed to be enjoying Act II much more than I was. And you will start intermission with the feeling that you’re watching something special, even something memorable. But, if you leave the show regretting staying after intermission, you probably have as little tolerance for stereotype-based humor as I do.

I suspect Mr. Rudnick was trying to make a statement of optimism, that the new century will bring gays and lesbians a new self-respect and acceptance. In and of itself, that’s commendable and an idea I can buy into. But doing it in this way is, well, feeding all of “Straight America’s” homophobic delusions. And there IS something wrong with that.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)



[POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
minor correction by fshley
Brad, Stan Gentry is actually not an intern at the Express.
minor correction by fshley
Brad, Stan Gentry is actually not an intern at the Express.
My Apologies by Dedalus
Sorry about the sloppy research, and thanks for the correction. See you soon!
sorry for the repeat by fshley
Don't know why my comment showed up twice. It's not that it bore repeating, but I probably hit the submit button twice. My apologies for any breach in cyber-etiquette...


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