`Queer Cafe' serves a four-course meal

Review: Short plays amount to tasty tidbits, but one might have hoped for something more piquant.

June 14, 1999|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

If the four short plays in "Queer Cafe '99" were actually items on a menu, they might be listed like this: appetizer, PS Lorio's amusing "Always the Bridesmaid"; entree, James Magruder's "Too Much of Me," the evening's most substantial offering; side dish, Madeleine Olnek's spirited monologue, "The Jewish Nun"; and dessert, Charles Derry's sweet "Ten Memories of My Mother in the Order I Think of Them."

It's a fairly balanced meal, though more limited stylistically than the broad mix of abstract as well as naturalistic pieces from the two previous annual installments of "Queer Cafe" -- the omnibus title for PussyCat Theatre Company's anthologies of short gay and lesbian plays.

There's also a little theatrical sorbet to cleanse the palate between courses. The sorbet takes the form of the evening's unifying theme -- a sideshow whose performers (a bearded lady, fortune teller, half man-half woman, fire eater, stilt walker and singing ringmaster) perform between playlets. Granted, a sideshow would seem a politically incorrect choice for an evening of gay and lesbian theater. But perhaps it is intended to tie into the feelings of otherness that surface in two of the four plays.

In "Always the Bridesmaid," Caitlin Callahan plays a butch woman immensely uncomfortable at the thought of getting all dolled up as a bridesmaid in her sister's highly traditional wedding.

The short play, in which she compares her role to "being trapped in some nightmare in Barbie's dream closet," reaches its comical peak when Callahan launches into a one-sided discussion with her frilly, disembodied bridesmaid's gown.

The otherness in Olnek's "Jewish Nun" monologue has more to do with religion than sexuality. Dahlia Kaminsky (who also plays the evening's fire eater) delivers a polished portrayal of the conflicted daughter of a Jewish father and Catholic mother. Her parents' troubled marriage leaves her feeling comfortable and free only outside of organized religion.

Religion also plays a significant role in "Too Much of Me," whose author is the resident dramaturg at Center Stage. In this play, the evangelistic mother (Catherine Weidner) of a gay man (Robb Bauer) visits her son and his new lover (David Catanzarite) in hopes of saving their souls before Armageddon, which she is convinced is imminent.

Weidner's portrayal of the mother -- a gutter-mouthed ex-stripper -- is a hoot, as is a scene in which she and Bauer break into a little dance choreographed to the titles of the books of the Bible.

But there's also a ring of truth in Magruder's depiction of the disturbing emotions of both the desperately lonely mother and her son's lover, who is unable to come to terms with the mother's revelation that the son once prayed to be straight.

The most touching selection is Derry's "Ten Memories of My Mother," beautifully directed by Susan Lev, who also directed the other three offerings. In "Ten Memories," Lev incorporates a fluid, movement-oriented performance by Binnie Ritchie-Holum as the mother. The memories, related with sensitivity by Michael Willis, skip around in time and vary in tone. Among the most effective are a humorous recollection of trying to teach his widowed, senior citizen mother to drive, and the haunting image of his mother extending her arms for a holiday hug, though he can no longer remember whether they completed the embrace.

As a whole, "Queer Cafe '99" serves up a meal that is adequate and often tasty. But it seems a shame that its experimental flavor comes mostly in the form of spoonfuls between courses.

`Queer Cafe '99'

Where: Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; through June 26

Tickets: $14

Call: 410-752-8558

Pub Date: 6/14/99

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