Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Gulls"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2003 by Carl A. Rossi


by Ryan Landry
directed by James P. Byrne

Melanie Daniels … Penny Champayne
Miss Finch / Helen … Windsor Newton
Mitch Brenner … Buck Schott
Gulls / Children … Lil’ Joe Shepard; Sara Lee
Cap’n Salty … Miller Highlife
Annie Hayward … Ryan Landry
Chief Oscar Meyer … Park Avenue
Waitress … “Bam Bam” Berry
Lydia Brenner … David “Goldilocks” Hanbury
Kathy Brenner … P. J. McWhiskers
Bundy … The Marsian
Crazy Mother … Olive Another
Caldwell Banker … Richard “Hattie” Buckley

Ryan Landry and the Gold Dust Orphans are back in Boston with their smash-hit of the Provincetown summer season, THE GULLS, their homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS. It is a minor entry in the Orphans’ canon but still worth seeing for their ingenious special effects.

THE GULLS follows the film’s outline: spoiled rich girl Melanie Daniels pursues handsome Mitch Brenner to his coastal home where the bird population suddenly attacks the town residents; Mr. Landry switches the California locale to Provincetown, where the birds are retaliating against regentrification and the passing of an older, freer gay lifestyle (keep an eye out for the goose-stepping flamingoes). THE GULLS’ jokes switch on and off --- it lacks the flow-through comedy of their masterpieces CAMILLE and JOAN CRAWFORD’S CHRISTMAS ON THE POLE --- but it is a unified entertainment unlike their BAD SEED which split between trash and moving drama. By now you’re wondering: how do the Orphans pull off the bird-attack set pieces? I’m afraid you’ll have to go down to the Ramrod and see for yourselves; suffice it to say they are cleverly done (you’ll be poised between laughter and admiration). Theatre beginners (and professionals, for that matter) should pay heed to the Orphans’ endlessly inventive stagecraft: Mr. Landry, director James P. Byrne and their clowns are able to meet any technical challenge --- and on a budget, too.

In a cast with camp monikers, Penny Champayne makes a tough yet ladylike Melanie (sort of a blonde, white Louise Jefferson); this time around, the standouts are regulars David Hanbury and P. J. McWhiskers. Mr. Hanbury, who plays lascivious shrews and villains, throws open entire closets of previously untapped zaniness as Mitch’s mother, especially in her hilarious bedroom scene where she reveals the repressed emotions (and physical attributes) of her character (at the kitchen sink, she washes --- in succession --- a dish, a dish, a gull and a dish without batting an eye). Instead of casting Haylee Shrimpton as a poignant little Kathy, Mr. McWhiskers has been handed the plum --- the jury is still out as to whether he is a comic genius or simply a tall, sweet, obscene child (both?); either way, Mr. McWhiskers’ rubber-faced, crossed-eyed grimaces continue to convulse me, as did Olive Another’s Crazy Mother (“You’re evil!”), tweaked just enough to be truly hysterical. This is the second consecutive Orphans show minus star performer Charles Finneran --- and he is missed.

Now that Boston has been spoon-fed Camp these past few months and seems none the worse for it (i.e., RUTHLESS! THE MUSICAL; THE PRODUCERS; WHEN PIGS FLY and, now, HAIRSPRAY --- with more to come this season), a trip to the Ramrod for the Real Thing should be the next logical step --- or does it still boil down to Location, Location, Location?

"The Gulls" (3-25 October)
The Ramrod Center For The Performing Arts, 1254 Boylston Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 265-6222

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide