There are many things David Bell's The Gay Naked Play can be accused of, but false advertising is not one of them. There's gaiety, lots of it, and nudity, briefly, after some teasing. It is also very, very funny, and its take-no-prisoners style extends to itself -- as a send-up of the Off-Off Broadway scene, it is sharp, accurate, and unsparing. And very funny.
So there's this theatrical troupe, The Integrity Players, and their inflated, heartfelt, frighteningly pretentious production about birth, death, poverty, and humanity. But they all believe in the company's mission statement, and vow to continue on in their quest for meaningful theater in spite of no funding. (Sound familiar? Well, calm down, this is a comedy.) Then there's this other group -- flighty, queeny, and very successful with their productions of plays with titles like Naked Boys Doing Things While Naked. They've got a production but no stage, and Integrity has a theater but no audience. Will the twain meet? Are you serious?
But although there's nothing serious about The Gay Naked Play, what's wonderful about it is how irreverent it is about its own reality.
Selling out for success? Perish the thought! Except . . . what about integrity? Well, what about it? When there's a buff stud puppy (Gregory Marcel), a crazed producer whose shameful secret is his legit background (Christopher Borg), two twinks of Mutt-and-Jeff proportions (Brett Douglas, Michael Silva), an oh-so-serious actor who enjoys exploring the Stanislavsky elements of the porn he'll be appearing in (Wayne Henry), a stage director discovering himself (Desmond Dutcher), an artistic director who swears to be true to his mission statement (Christopher Yustin), his leading actress and adoring new wife (Jessica Calvello) who's under the thumb of her mother (Ellen Reilly) who controls the purse strings -- well, integrity doesn't even come into it.
What Bell has written, and Borg and Jason Bowcutt have directed so fast and furious it recalls classic '40s screwball comedies, has a long list of primogenitors, among them Preston Sturges's Sullivan's Travels and Marlowe's Dr. Faustus. Which is to say that while the play is serious as hell about the heck it raises, it doesn't let anything stand in the way of a punchline. The play mines laughs out of (just scratching the surface, and in no particular order) Madonna, Joanne Woodward, The Olive Garden, Janet Jackson, Bacardi, Uta Hagen, Mary Martin, The Miracle Worker, Jesus Christ, Patti LuPone, Samuel Beckett, Pulse Ensemble, and Playwright's Horizons (some so quick it's hard to catch them) and loves all of it -- and knows just what life, theatre, and the joy of performing in a farce are all about.
The small stage can barely contain it all, with Thom Weaver's lighting as important as Robbie Cochran's scenery for setting mood and place, and Dutcher's sound design perfectly catching the jokes. Jarah Moesch and Reilly have costumed the chaos perfectly. Like a cold Coca-Cola on a hot summer day, The Gay Naked Play is bracing, bubbly, and tart refreshment.
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Copyright 2004 David Mackler