Saturday, Nov. 7, 2009

Intimate Comedy at MGAC

RSVP stages a new Paul Rudnick comedy

By Russ Bickerstaff
Google+ Pinterest Print

The tiny space at the MGAC is a series of folding chairs facing an empty space for performers framed against a brick wall. Like a few others in town, the space allows for some really close contact with the actors, which makes for Raymond Bradford's remarkably intimate RSVP production of Paul Rudnick’s The New Century.

The show opens with the strikingly attractive Sharon Nieman-Koebert in the role of a Jewish mother from Long Island. She’s addressing a meeting of parents of GBLT children. The joke at the heart of the monologue is pretty solid—Long Island is a highly competitive atmosphere for parents. Parents are always trying to outdo each other with the successes of their children. And if your neighbor’s kid is gay and you’re okay with that, you want your kid to be something more exotic than that and be even more okay with it than your neighbor. And so Neiman-Koebert is playing a woman who trumps them all—one lesbian daughter, one son to daughter transgender child and a leather boy. And as they all come out to her, she tries to maintain some sense of perspective on things. The monologue is actually quite funny and Nieman-Koebert does a pretty good job of delivering the lines with the right comic rhythm. The monologue is written for a woman with a Long Island Jewish accent that Neiman-Kobert doesn’t seem to be attempting here, but what she may lack in style she more than makes up for in charm. Her stage presence overcomes any other limitations, performing as she is in a very, very intimate space that brings the emotional realities of the character into prominence.

The second bit isn’t strictly speaking a monologue and it isn’t strictly speaking as new as the rest of the show. Mr.Charles, Currently of Palm Beach originally debuted as a standalone short just over ten years ago. The piece centers itself around a flamboyantly gay man (played by Dale Gutzman) who was voted out of the New York theatre scene for being too close to the traditional stereotype of a flamingly effeminate homosexual. The short is set up as an episode of a local access cable show of the effeminate Mr. Charles in exile in Florida. Christopher Elst plays Mr. Charles’ beefy co-host and boyfriend. The comedy here is pretty obvious and it comes across with kind of an easy rhythm for Gutzman, who has a lengthy history onstage. It’s nice to see him in a monologue of this sort, but one gets the feeling that he’s not playing it quite flamboyantly enough. Mr. Charles is a flamboyantly gay stereotype of a man . . . and Gutzman plays the role closer to the serious and emotional end of the character that makes him so compellingly human. The comedy suffers a bit.

The final individual piece is a monologue featuring Kim Ballou as a Midwestern mother of a man who has died of AIDS. She crafts, crochets, scrapbooks and such to keep herself from experiencing the full emotional effect of everything. Like the rest of the cast, Ballou is far more effective at the emotional end of things than she is with delivering the comic lines. And really, if you’re going to err on the side of anything with The New Century, you’re going to want to err on the side of the serious and emotional. Far better to see a performance of this type of play that can capture the serious emotional end of Rudnick’s characters than a comedy that plays up the one-liners like a ham-fisted sitcom without regard to the emotional resonance at the center of the monologues. Ideally, one wouldn’t have to make the choice between the two, though . . . without the charm of the humor being brought to the stage quite as effectively as it could be, the production feels slightly tilted away from the kind of balance that would make the final scene work as well as it could. This is a fairly minor concern. There’s a connection made here in a very intimate space. It may not quite live up to the script’s intensity with respect to the comedy, but this is a very, very good script solidly executed. It’s a fun night of intimate theatre stylishly outside the comfort zone of the spacious theatre district. 

RSVP’s production of Paul Rudnick’s The New Century runs through November 21st at the MGAC on 703 South Second Street.

Log in to use your Facebook account with
Express Milwaukee

Login With Facebook Account