BY JOHN FLEMING
Times Performing Arts Critic
One of playwright Paul Rudnick's trademarks is his fearless portrayal of stereotypically flamboyant gay characters, but he has outdone himself in The New Century, a series of monologues that includes the story of the gayest guy imaginable, Mr. Charles, Currently of Palm Beach.
In the performance by Matthew McGee at American Stage, Mr. Charles is thoroughly, embarrassingly politically incorrect, and he is hilarious.
"I am so deeply homosexual, that with just a glance, I can actually turn someone gay,'' Mr. Charles declares as he sashays onto the set of his cable TV show, Too Gay.
Mr. Charles answers questions on the show — "Can gay people change? Of course — for dinner'' — and free-associates the entire history of American gay theater in 60 seconds.
With his "nellie breaks'' and lesbian jokes and bad hairpiece, Mr. Charles is a dinosaur ("Unless, of course, Steven Spielberg discovers some ancient DNA from Paul Lynde and makes more,'' he says). But Rudnick also has a serious point to make. Mr. Charles is his response to the commercial calculation that goes into the oh-so-careful writing of most gay characters for TV and movies.
McGee steals the show with his campy chutzpah, but the other cast members are also terrific: Ann Morrison as a Long Island matron in Pride and Joy and Carolyn Zaput as a Midwestern crafts enthusiast in Crafty, both women dealing with gay and lesbian offspring. Jonathan D. Lovitz is the hunky eye candy on Mr. Charles' show. T. Scott Wooten directed and did set and sound design.
Rudnick wrote the three monologues as individual party pieces over the years, and combined them in The New Century for a production in 2008. Each is a wonderfully juicy crowd-pleaser. To conclude the play, he created a fourth scene in a hospital maternity ward, where all the characters turn up for some reason. He should have left well enough alone. The finale is the weakest section of the show.
John Fleming can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8716. He blogs on Critics Circle at blogs.tampabay.com/arts.