note: entire contents copyright 2007 by Larry Stark
Where do you start?
See, I was there BEFORE the beginning: "The Brian + Mal Show" (that maybe called itself "Guilty Children") were doing roll-in-the-aisles funny stuff in one of those briefly lit theater-spaces (seated about 35 as I recall) --- before Brian Jewell retired and Mal Malme (No one calls her "Karen" anymore, so I won't) merged her often cross-dressed comic theatricality with a crew calling itself QUEER SOUP. Now, after five blazing years --- lit by the irrepressible grin of Kim Hoff, fed by the increasingly honest playwriting of Jess Martin, and sandpapered by Renee C. Farster's directorial eye --- they have built a blockbuster evening of short plays in which a " + " is significant. There are two you might have seen before, but four of them are new and two of those are from Soupers who usually do other things. There are tellingly-serious and deadly-funny plays, and even a two-part "Mockumentary" self-sendup of QUEER SOUP by film-maker Kathy Wittman (who turns out to be an actress who can hold her own with Souper Regulars).
Oh, and one final note: no one need be gay to enjoy great, moving theater!
All the evening lacks --- is YOU.
Here Becca A. Lewis pulls her tennessee accent out of mothballs to become a fading Country-Music star trying to make herself once more into the Image her public will expect when she steps on the Grand Ol' Opry stage. The idea of being trapped in an image less and less true to your true self comes alive because Kathy Wittman enters as a newswoman bent on doing an intimate portrait of the backstage life of a famous performer. Betsy Phillips' play ends letting the audience decide whether a terrified star can have the guts to tell the world who she really is.
This play find a couple on opposte ends of a canoe in Vermont where one of them goes every year to renew herself with a calming lake and, perhaps, the sight of a bathng moose. But it's about what people do to hold one another, and each other, together when the world collapses --- when, perhaps, one of them is the only member of her office team who didn't disappear a month earlier at 9/11. A favorite in a Boston Marathon some time back, this play's slender means allows both actresses to burrow into themselves to make old truths new.
So a young dyke strikes up an over-coffee conversation with an old geezer after an A.A. meeting. Strangers are the easiest ones to confess to, right? She says, when she feels the need, she usually finds a women-only meeting not because she's gay, but for fear she might meet the derelict dad who taught her to drink --- and maybe I've said too much. But it's nice to know the show's director can write!
Another Marathon favorite, this lets Mal assume the grandeur of a golf pro lining up a fourteenth-hole shot at one more trophy with Kathy Wittman as her young caddy, only --- it's MINIATURE Golf! And, demanding to play-through (Without a caddy) is uppity Cheryl Singleton as an old-flame scorned. Playwright Jess Martin feeding this cast a whole gaggle of exaggerations to play with.
Fantasy worlds are for hiding in from the truth --- even from happy truth. The course of true love never did run smooth, and gender and personalities make it rougher, don't they? It's hard in today's world to say three little words; it's even harder to take advantage of new circumstances and say three harder ones: "Let's get married!"
So this is by Mal, the reigning comedy queen (king?) and must be a laugh riot full of cardboard characters, right? Wrong!
"Gutting" refers not to fish, but to cleaning flood-devastated houses back to bare walls in still-painful New Orleans, pulling mold-infested memories of broken lives out of the wreckage that once were homes. Cheryl Singleton and Mal play a husband and wife helping run a hostel where college kids from the North come to volunteer on the crews. He resents their monied but shallow generosity, she likes being surrogate-mom, but though they both need to be useful their FEMA-money's running out, so Paul Dixon's project-head has to send them to the jungle of a shelter. Becca Lewis is both a newbie needing to be told or learning things the audience needs to know, and a surrogate daughter to be councelled about life's hard choices.
The play teaches things that newsmen never said about New Orleans; and who but the ever-surprising Mal could show the darker underside of comedy?
Ending the first-half and beginning the second is this glimpse of the childhoods and careers of the QUEER SOUP Gang, with that other half of the old "Brian + Mal" team playing all the eye-witnesses to their nefarious deeds and shames and triumphs before and during the past five years. Those of us who know their work may laugh in different places, but the mind-set that made it necessary for someone to play a five-foot penis from outer space in an earlier play infests every foot of this thoroughly Informative Film!
QUEER SOUP has been for some time now a best-kept secret of Boston theater. Whether in knife-sharp satires or, lately, achingly human dramas, they have a careful eye for detail and a commitment to substance and style --- probably because they work together. "Lost + Found" is a sort of "Whitman Sampler" of their best people doing their best work, in shows that, funny or serious, grows out of an uninhibited gay attitude. Their work is illuminated by Kim Hoff's irrepressible smile, powered by Jess Martin's words, sandpapered by Renee C. Farster's directorial eye, and informed by a pride in self and in talent that they are committed to sharing with puzzled teen-agers. This show is a fond glance backward, and an eager look toward the future. And, when the work is this good, no one need be gay to experience excellent theater. Opening night, the cast outnumbered the audience, which means disaster when there are so few laughs in comedy numbers. (Even the directorially choreographed scene-changes here are carefully crafted, and funny as hell!) I say again:
All the evening lacks --- is YOU.
( a k a larry stark)