Auntie Mayhem

By David Pumo
Directed by Donna Jean Fogel
The Fourth Unity
 Bank St. Theatre
155 Bank St (212/287-6102)
Equity showcase (closes June 15)
Review by Charles Battersby

When former drag queen Felony Mayhem (Moe Bertran) comes face-to-face with the street punk who mugged her a few days before, she plots her revenge on the lad, but Felony’s plans for vengeance take a turn to the warm and fuzzy side when she discovers that her attacker is a gay teen who has been thrown out of his home because of his sexual persuasion.  Felony and her lover, Bobo (Ivan Davila) decide to adopt the youth (Randy Aaron), and it’s not long before “Auntie Mayhem” and “Uncle Bobo” have a litter of gay and transgender runaways in their home.

The script is howlingly funny yet never becomes farcical (a pair of musical numbers in one scene ALMOST broke the reality barrier, but not quite) and the story manages to be touching without getting sappy.  There is a ton of insider jokes for the NYC gay/transgender community, but the project is completely accessible and enjoyable for heteros.

 Auntie Mayhem is not just here to entertain.  It also tackles the serious issue of the plight of gay and transgender runaways.  It’s loaded with information about such, but this exposition is deeply integrated into the story and comes out as natural-sounding dialogue.

Moe Bertran spearheaded the cast as the title character, but Bertram was joined by an excellent ensemble, including Jimmy Hurley as Charlotte, a grizzled veteran of the drag scene.

The show used a single bedroom set (Lea Umberger), but the bedroom had a pair of sliding glass doors upstage that allowed the audience to see “offstage” characters walking past Felony’s bedroom as they entered and left the apartment.  The bedroom itself, with its red wallpaper, abundant mirrors, and trunk full of petticoats and feather boas, looked just the way one would expect a drag queen’s bedroom to look.   Felony’s bedroom was astoundingly lit by Renee Molina.  The superb lighting was even used offstage, since the hallway of Felony’s apartment could be seen through her bedroom doorway, and a series of offstage lights gave the illusion of different rooms being in that hallway. 

The soundtrack was a collection of infectious and compelling ’70s dance tunes, but it stayed clear of cliches like “I Will Survive” and “It’s Raining Men.”  Playwright David Pumo also wrote original lyrics for a gay rap (sung by Isaac Calpito).  The sound blended together with the lighting during a musical number (excellently choreographed by Jimmy Locust). 

A show about a drag queen would presumably have Fab-you-luss costumes, but Felony is a retired drag queen who’s become a home maker, and never appears in a dress.  The cast were mostly clad in street clothes, though in a couple of scenes Felony’s friend Charlotte wore some tacky cocktail dresses.

The Fourth Unity tackled the difficult task of presenting a play that deals with a socially relevant issue in an informative way, while finding a way to make it entertaining.  They succeeded on both counts.

(Also featuring: Henry Alberto)

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Sets: 2
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2003 Charles Battersby