In 'All Dressed Up,' transvestites meet the Amish

May 11, 1994|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Sun Theater Critic

Catherine Filloux's "All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go" takes place roughly where "Witness" meets "La Cage aux Folles."

The premise relies on one of those formulas in which circumstances throw an unlikely assortment of people together. And, as usually happens in these cases -- think "Grand Hotel," think "Lifeboat" -- the main characters learn a little more about themselves by the end.

In "All Dressed Up," which is receiving its world premiere as the second production at the Playwrights Theatre of Baltimore, the place is a motel in Buffalo, the circumstance is a blizzard and the unlikely assortment is a group of Amish folk and a convention of transvestites -- plain and fancy, you might say.

The motel is so crowded that two of the Amish end up sharing a bathroom with two cross-dressers. If that isn't bizarre enough, one of the transvestites turns out to have once been Amish. And, there's more to the coincidence than that -- though I'll resist the temptation to divulge more details.

Whether due to Maurey Lancaster's smooth, restrained direction, or to the way the playwright allows her script to slowly build, or simply to this theatergoer's willing suspension of disbelief, I went along with the preposterousness of the situation. At the very least, Filloux has come up with an interesting cast of characters, and for the most part, she gives them more than two dimensions.

Lisa Vana is touching as an Amish teen-ager rebelling against her stern father, convincingly played by Herman Kemper. Linda M. Jones does a heartfelt job as the play's most conventional character, an overworked motel employee. And Jeff Keenan is entertaining as a transvestite identified only as "Barbie" -- a role that has only 2 1/2 dimensions, though Keenan imbues it with enough heart to keep it from being merely a joke.

As Jacky/Jake, the closet cross-dresser who was formerly Amish and is now a successful bankruptcy turnaround specialist, Bill Delaney not only looks unattractive and un-feminine in women's clothes, but he also has to carry the bulk of the second act. That's because Filloux's script, which starts out as an ensemble piece, abruptly shifts its focus to Jake.

Nor is this the only burden Delaney has to bear. His character's personality changes according to the gender of his garb. Dressed as a woman, he's compassionate; as a man, he's a bossy control fanatic.

Like several elements in this script -- particularly the neatly resolved ending -- Jake's dual personality is too pat. But like wearing too much eye shadow, this can be corrected. And you have to give some credit to a playwright who can put transvestites and the Amish on stage together, and instead of making us laugh at them, make us respect the humanity they have in common.

SOMEWHERE TO GO

What: "All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go"

Where: Playwrights Theatre of Baltimore, 908 Washington Blvd.

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Through May 29

Tickets: $14

Call: (410) 727-1847

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