at the Rudely Elegant Theater and Gallery


Poison Nut Productions

at the Rudely Elegant Theater and Gallery

Audience participation is part and parcel of Chicago-style improv, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen actors actually haul someone from his seat and give him a beauty make-over before. And though many male-dominated comedy groups often seem preoccupied by homosexual anxiety, I’ve never encountered such a rude, crude assortment of gay stereotypes as I did at the debut of Boys in the Bathroom last weekend.

That’s because the Boys in the Bathroom are an all-gay comedy quartet whose motto seems to be: the best source of antigay abuse is a bunch of fags. Which, of course, is true.

Developed by the same talents who came up with last season’s cultishly popular Barbie the Fantasies, Boys in the Bathroom follows the improv party line pretty closely: scripted skits and occasional musical numbers are interspersed with improvisational games to which viewers contribute their ideas and sometimes their bodies. The humor’s focus is bluntly gay-related–there’s no I-happen-to-be-homosexual here–but while many of the jokes are more than a little raw, I think the show’s appeal is not exclusive to gay audiences.

This is a party show that doesn’t toe a party line. Political incorrectness is the order of the evening, from the program note allegedly listing the actors in descending order of penis size to the outre Donna Summer record played before the performance starts to the stream of silly-sissy and diesel-dyke caricatures that flows through the evening. (An insensitive Jeff Dahmer joke rightly drew boos, but that may or may not mean it will be dropped.) Some of the scripted portions are likely to change during the show’s run, judging from their reliance on current news events; at the first performance, recent protests against the Cracker Barrel restau- rant chain for hiring discrimination against gays was the basis for a skit about a man misguidedly picketing Crate and Barrel. The show’s most obvious and weakest bit is a Jeopardy parody in which the audience sings the TV show’s theme song while campy contestants guess the question to a viewer-suggested answer. In the finale, a takeoff on A Chorus Line, four queeny beauticians pull patrons from the audience for a hairstyling audition that gets pretty funny in a raucous sort of way.

The Boys are tall, skinny, seemingly naive Sean McGinn; bald, stocky, sometimes overassertively directorial Steven Milford; lean, insinuating Danny Tag; and a really marvelous clown named Sean Stomski, whom I can best describe as a non-self-hating Paul Lynde. The crisp and energetic direction, which channels the actors’ brash energy to make the material play more amusingly than it often reads, is credited to Robin Bucci.

Several of the same talents are involved in Rudely Elegant’s late-night offering, the sparklingly funny Psycho Beach Party. Written by New York drag comic Charles Busch, Psycho Beach Party is a dizzy, fast-paced spoof of 1960s teen fare (Gidget and Annette Funicello movies, TV’s The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis) crossed (and cross-dressed) with Carrie, Sisters, Dark Mirror, and a host of other horror flicks in which the heroine either is a split personality or should be.

Given the sources, it’s surprising that the play turns out to be a rather sweet ugly-duckling story in this playful, personality-plus production directed by Steven Milford, who staged the script a couple of years ago for a different theater. Among the brisk, sharply focused ensemble, standout performances come from ingenuously charming Sean McGinn as the heroine Chicklet, who may or may not be the mysterious psychopath stalking beaches and shaving the teen lovers found there; Sean Stomski as Chicklet’s religious-fanatic mother; Brian Duffy as a closet-queen beatnik surfer; Robin Bucci as the Monroe-Mansfield-style starlet Marvel Ann, the “older woman” who invades teen territory; and the gifted character actress Susan Simpkins as Berdine, the latent-lesbian egghead who proves to be Chicklet’s faithful friend, with an endless capacity for sublimation. Simpkins has a perfect handle on the oddball blend of satire and sensitivity that lifts Psycho Beach Party head and shoulders above most of its camp-comedy ilk.