Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Valhalla"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

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note: entire contents copyright 2007 by Carl A. Rossi


by Paul Rudnick
directed by David J. Miller and Rick Park

King Ludwig of Bavaria … Brian Quint
James Avery … Jon Ferreira

Margaret Mortimer; Queen Marie; Princess Mary;
Princess Enid; Natalie Kippelbaum … Maureen Adduci

Henry Lee Stafford; Helmut; Opera Singer … Christopher Michael Brophy

Sally Mortimer; Princess Sophie; Princess Patricia;
Marie Antoinette; Annie Avery … Elisa MacDonald

Footman; Otto; Pfeiffer; Princess Ursula the Unusual;
Reverend Howesberry; Sergeant … Rick Park

Paul Rudnick’s VALHALLA, at the Zeitgeist, is dazzling comedy even when the rhinestones outnumber the diamonds. Two worlds compete for your attention: the court of King Ludwig of Bavaria (19th century), who sees Life as his own Wagnerian opera, and the closeted Texas of James Avery (20th century), who lusts for straight-arrow Henry Lee Stafford --- these worlds kinda-sorta blend, eventually; before then, you may wonder what the back-and-forth is all about apart from concluding that it takes a gay man (Ludwig) to make the world an exquisite one and another gay man (James) to appreciate the effort (each begins by mooning over his respective swan). Still, Mr. Rudick does keep you chuckling, throughout --- his humor lies in the throwaway or afterthought than in the heart of things --- so you shouldn’t be too, too disappointed at journey’s end.

The Zeitgeist has come a long way since the days when its casts outnumbered its audiences; it continues to offer quirky/edgy fare but David J. Miller (assisted, here, by Rick Park) is now an actor’s director, as well, and many a familiar face can now be found in his productions; VALHALLA particularly benefits from playing so intimately in the round than from a proscenium’s distance (the characters remain cartoons but are now three-dimensional ones). There is an olive’s tang about Brian Quint as an actor; thus, he is a welcome accent in ensembles --- the role of Ludwig allows him to take center stage and Mr. Quint’s monarch is a study of curdled innocence, his face ever in a pout, and he can slip in and out of madness without dissolving Mr. Rudnick’s wit. Jon Ferreira is an astonishing James Avery --- astonishing by being embedded in the character’s period: the pagan grin, the pompadour, the whiff of outlaw-sex; a rebel with a one-man crusade to live and love openly in pre-Stonewall days. But even the most polished table top stands or wobbles on its legs, and the Messrs. Quint and Ferreira are supported by a quartet of scene-stealers: Maureen Adduci gives her matrons a warped dignity so that they do not collapse into mere gorgons; Elisa MacDonald, an alluring comedienne, makes being a humpback a kind of fashion statement; Christopher Michael Brophy plays yet another stud whose closet door is rattled but who else besides Mr. Brophy can lend such plausibility, not to mention physique, to his fantasy figure (fantasy in the sense that if a gay man is persistent, his straight buddy will eventually see the light)? Best of all is Rick Park, one of Boston’s treasures: Mr. Park is so rich a comic actor that he needn’t empty his bag of tricks into your lap but, instead, selects random bits and still doubles you up with laughter. Here, for example, he licks a rubber ball once, not twice or thrice in a row, flutters daintily behind a fan while in full drag, plops a dropped toupee back on his head and nonchalantly tucks a stray lock behind his ear, and so on. In short, Mr. Park personifies Less is More.

Seth Bodie’s costumes and Rachel Padula’s wigs are eye-popping, especially when they must be whipped on and off in seconds --- this is the lushest Zeitgeist production, yet, and on the afternoon I attended the Black Box was packed and its audience, most appreciative. Mr. Miller may not realize it, but the Zeitgeist is in danger of becoming Popular.

"Valhalla" (13 April-5 May)
Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 933-8600

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide