Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Theater review: The Importance of Being Lovely at Addison Theatre Center
Don’t go if nudity makes you squeamish.
“Love is as messy as washing off mascara.” So exclaims Lovely Uranus to her roommate Casey in The Importance of Being Lovely, now playing at Addison Theatre Center through August 11, from MBS Productions.
More accurately, it’s Larry Belacroix, the birth name of Lovely Uranus, the drag queen from Beulaville, Texas. In this play about “dating, relationships, sexuality, fidelity, and orientation,” the story is familiar. Boy meets boy, falls in love, discovers his new love is a lying, cheating louse using him as a one-night stand, and boy (the first one) learns what’s important about living in the modern age -- being himself and finding someone who loves him for who he is. Well, it’s close to familiar.
Mark-Brian Sonna plays Lovely Uranus, aka Larry Belacroix. The idea for the character was introduced in Outrageous, Sexy, (nekkid) Romp, also by Alejandro la Costa, although it’s unknown that Larry Belacroix is actually the brother of Dickey in The Beulaville Baptist Book Club. The Importance of Being Lovely opens with the last scene of Outrageous as Lovely succumbs to a fling with his youthful roommate, Casey. This fling, which includes Keith, a third member of the triad we never see, is the kind of thing people have been claiming about gay couples for decades: promiscuous, uncontrolled, ready to find a fling without provocation. Nevertheless, if we’re honest, this can be said for hetero-sexuals and anyone else who has urges. Even gay relationships grow and ebb, become strained, cause chaos and grief, and occasionally become fulfilling. That makes this play a story for all audiences.
As Lovely Uranus, Sonna continues development of his drag queen persona with class and style. Lovely is funny and pathetic, in the sense of sadness in how he is treated. He’s inspiring and wise in the ways of the world. Moreover, though both he and his lovers have a difficult time deciding whether he’s a HE or SHE at any moment, Lovely is becoming clear about who he is. Gender orientation issues are in the minds of others, not his. Sonna is a large man in height and girth, and he occupies a woman’s dress like a bushel of potatoes in a silk pillowcase, but he walks with the grace of one who’s walked in heels all his life. He holds his head and body high, and his heavily made-up face and wigs are the epitome of every drag queen I’ve ever seen portrayed. More importantly, Sonna knows how to tell a story. He has perfect comedic timing, a voice that washes over you comfortably, and the kind of very real pathos and sadness about his life that each of us have experienced at some time. When he’s not reminding you he’s Lovely, it’s easy to forget he’s just a person going through a difficult time with relationships and self-worth.
Dylan Peck plays young Casey, who seems like a regular housewife with the challenges trying to be a homemaker brings to him and Lovely. His anguish over losing his lover, the unseen third man, is quality acting. It’s a quiet pain we see in women who live with empty marriages or abuse. Peck’s performance is even more difficult because he performs much of it nude. Nudity onstage in front of a live audience is a special challenge for actors, and Peck’s work is funny, heartfelt, poignant, and courageous.
A new excitement enters their relationship, a suitor for Lovely. Richard S. Blake plays Randy as a quiet, underhanded sexual predator. Blake also plays most scenes in full nudity as he creates a demeanor in Randy that’s initially saccharin sweet and romantic and then more like a stalker using Lovely to resolve his own inner demons. His physical and emotional prowess is so strong a woman told him later she didn’t want him to come out for bows. As a villain and antagonist who must push the boundaries of what is acceptable to get Lovely to the breaking point, Blake nails it.
There’s something to be said about nudity in live theater. You don’t see it much and in the rare times you do, it often seems shocking, uncomfortable, and distracting to a story. In The Importance of Being Lovely, this isn’t the case. I wasn’t shocked or uncomfortable. It momentarily surprised me when first unveiled, but it quickly became a natural state of being in the story and I found myself seeing nudity as a costume rather than a shocking event.
Speaking of costumes, designs by Larry E. Groseclose are both challenging (how do you costume a nude actor?) and creative. The various outfits, wigs, makeup, and jewelry for Lovely are probably worth the admission. Both visually striking and offering many stage choices for Lovely to work with, these costumes are comic in their own right (she’s not the most elegant diva) and really set a major theme in this play. Despite being undressed a lot, Peck and Blake do wear clothes before and after their nudity and their clothing become props during some hilarious scenes while they’re nude.
Sonna takes credit for sound, probably because it’s a wonderful mix of Diane Lane tunes. Dark, sultry, melancholic, they set the mood in pre-show and intermission but we discover they also have meaning for Lovely as she laments her life choices. One suspects Lane means a lot to Sonna as well.
Lighting and set design is done by Alejandro de la Costa, the playwright. The set is a modern apartment living room, timeless and placeless, which looks like it comes from IKEA, but it’s supplemented by a collection of beautifully decorative bottles and a bookshelf with a table book about Barbara Streisand, a book about Frida, and The Secret Art of Dr. Seuss. Lighting is a simple bright wash of the stage. Turning this tiny theater space, a log cabin the city rents for events, into a stage is a creative achievement.
The Importance of Being Lovely is also de la Costa’s creation. Originally from Ciudad de los Olivos, three hours from Mexico City, he writes mostly for MBS. His plays include Adam and Eve in the Garden of Delights or Love (Column nomination as Best New Play), Dream Café (Best Play of 2010 by critics), and Outrageous, Sexy, (nekkid) Romp. He also directs and has a Column nomination for set design.
De la Costa imagines timeless stories we all relate to, wraps them in a gay perspective, and entertains audiences, the majority of which are straight. His stories transfer to universal themes. His dialogs are comical and poignant, and the situations he creates between people are relevant and funny. He presents archetypes that play power games with each other and the consequences they experience and the lessons they learn teach us how to live.
One gets the idea MBS Productions is a true collaboration, but this show has a clear focus and unity of purpose which only comes from strong direction. Charles Ballinger creates a strong atmosphere of playfulness, interspersed with moments of threat and self-reflection. His use of the full acting area, a small meeting room rather than a stage, lets the audience seem to be in the living room with the actors. He translates de la Costa’s work into a playful, playable story and then lets the actors translate his vision to the audience. It’s a textbook of good direction.
There’s much to see and experience with The Importance of Being Lovely, the latest installment for MBS. As a ballsy, edgy, and courageous acting company, they push the boundaries of what’s acceptable while finding new ways to tell stories with familiar themes. This is a fully adult show. Don’t go if nudity makes you squeamish. However, if you can prove you’re 18 and can relax into this charged atmosphere and let yourself get caught up in the story, it’s a magnificent place to experience modern experimental theater and see a tasty intro to MBS Productions.
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