Sunday, July 22, 2018
Stage

Review: A drag retelling of 'A Tale of Two Cities' impresses at American Stage

ST. PETERSBURG — There are at least three levels on which to appreciate American Stage's current retelling of A Tale of Two Cities.

The first is acting. Mark Chambers' solo performance is a tour de force. Not only is he tasked with telling Charles Dickens' sprawling story all by himself, but he also has to transform from a nebbishy-looking guy with a bad toupee into a noble drag queen. Putting on hose and cinching up his bust aren't the half of it.

He preens, he flexes, he flirts (with the audience as well as himself). He decorously lowers himself naked into a claw-footed tub with the strategic assistance of a bath towel.

And, he adopts a dozen or more different voices and mannerisms to portray the characters of the novel, who talk to each other in dialogue. It's a lot to keep track of, but Chambers manages to keep the characters distinct. Children often can be overheard narrating a story in the voices of their toys. Chambers turns that game into art.

The second is plot, although, despite Chambers' skill at differentiating the characters, this may be a little harder to follow. This is Dickens, after all, and playwright Everett Quinton has time to pluck only the major turning points and turn them into representative moments. It helps to know the story yourself. (Having not read the novel in decades, I prepped by reading a synopsis online and was glad I did.)

Some audience members at the matinee I attended, apparently, found it a bit much. "Very clever, but …" I overheard one woman say to another as they left the building at intermission.

The third level is the resonance of Dickens' 1859 novel, set just before and during the French Revolution, in the New York decade in which the play was written and set.

The novel is about the cruelties of social injustice, the lust for revenge and the chaos that results. In 1989, when the play was premiered by the Ridiculous Theatrical Company in New York's Greenwich Village, the AIDS crisis showed no signs of abating. No cure, few treatments, people dying in droves. It wasn't hard to see that official and societal indifference — the dying and dead were mostly just gay men and racial minorities, after all — had inhibited a more effective early response.

"The peasants are not swine!" an enlightened young man insists in the novel and play to his uncle, the Marquis St. Evrémonde, who is unperturbed at having just run over and killed a young boy with his carriage.

"Gay men are not expendable!" is the unspoken echo of the play. Thus, the importance of this story being narrated by a working-class drag queen named Jerry.

As Jerry gradually transforms himself into a buxom showgirl on the way to her debut, he also becomes more attached to the infant who has been left outside his apartment door (hilariously played by puppeteer Evan Causey, by the way). And we, the audience, become more attached to Jerry.

The play's conclusion dovetails perfectly with the noble climax of the novel. As Jerry prepares to carry the baby in his bassinet with him to work, he tells the story of the English attorney who has disguised himself as a man sentenced to the guillotine, in order that the other man may go free.

Comments
Paul Reiser, coming to Clearwater, talks about returning to standup and never winning an Emmy

Paul Reiser, coming to Clearwater, talks about returning to standup and never winning an Emmy

When Paul Reiser returned to standup comedy a few years ago, younger comics couldn’t figure him out. "All the younger comics would say, ‘Are you doing a special?’ I’d go no," said Reiser, 62. "‘What, are you getting rea...
Published: 07/19/18
What’s on stage this week: Hawk & Wayne does politics, Opera Tampa toasts Gilbert & Sullivan

What’s on stage this week: Hawk & Wayne does politics, Opera Tampa toasts Gilbert & Sullivan

OPEN SEASON: TRUST METwo candidates will square off Friday to debate one of the hottest topics of the political season: immigration. You can see them in action at the First Unity Spiritual Campus, where you also may spot campaign staffers, managers a...
Published: 07/18/18
Updated: 07/19/18
You won’t have to pay hundreds to see Springsteen on Broadway thanks to Netflix

You won’t have to pay hundreds to see Springsteen on Broadway thanks to Netflix

NEW YORK — Put away your wallet — you won’t have to pay hundreds of dollars to see Bruce Springsteen’s Broadway show. Netflix announced Wednesday that it will broadcast the Boss’ one-man show on Dec. 15, his last performance. Springsteen on Broadway ...
Published: 07/18/18
Grief and wit, heritage and family dynamics collide in ‘Bad Jews’ at American Stage

Grief and wit, heritage and family dynamics collide in ‘Bad Jews’ at American Stage

ST. PETERSBURG — Whatever else he learned at Cornell University and the Juilliard School, playwright Joshua Harmon surely learned family dynamics. His play, Bad Jews, bristles with wit and malevolence dished out by people for whom familiarity breeds ...
Published: 07/17/18
‘Honky Tonk Laundry’ starts a summer run at Show Palace in Hudson

‘Honky Tonk Laundry’ starts a summer run at Show Palace in Hudson

HUDSON — If you’re into country, Honky Tonk Laundry, which opens July 21 at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre, might be the ticket. Written by Roger Bean (The Marvelous Wonderettes/Life Could Be a Dream?), this comedy musical features a two-woman cast ...
Published: 07/16/18
What’s on stage this week: ‘Bad Jews,’ ‘Red,’ ‘It Shoulda Been You’

What’s on stage this week: ‘Bad Jews,’ ‘Red,’ ‘It Shoulda Been You’

AMERICAN STAGE: BAD JEWSWe know that death draws family members closer together. Except when it drives them further apart. A grandfather’s valuable heirloom shifts relatives from grief to competition, questions about who was closer to the deceased an...
Published: 07/11/18
Paul Reiser on 'Mad About You' revival: 'My guess is it won't happen'

Paul Reiser on 'Mad About You' revival: 'My guess is it won't happen'

Paul Reiser has some bad news for Mad About You fans hoping for a series revival. "It’s kind of stuck in the business end of it now," the comic, actor and co-creator of NBC’s Emmy-winning sitcom said by phone Monday. "Sony is trying to f...
Published: 07/10/18
Review: Confident brush strokes paint an eminently watchable ‘Red’ at Heather Theatre

Review: Confident brush strokes paint an eminently watchable ‘Red’ at Heather Theatre

TAMPA — You can always count on the Heather Theatre to do one thing. And that is to produce meaningful plays, and find within each the burning ember that gives off heat and light.So it is again with Red, John Logan’s deconstruction of a brilliant art...
Published: 07/09/18
Updated: 07/10/18
This week on stage: ‘Cinderella,’ ‘So Long Life,’ American Stage previews ‘Bad Jews’

This week on stage: ‘Cinderella,’ ‘So Long Life,’ American Stage previews ‘Bad Jews’

THE BALL IS BACK: CINDERELLAThe national tour of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella comes with flamboyant colors, ebullient music and lavish costumes."My favorite song is a huge ball scene at the end of Act 1, when Ella and the prince fall in love ...
Updated one month ago
St. Petersburg Opera finishes season with an energetic ‘The Music Man’

St. Petersburg Opera finishes season with an energetic ‘The Music Man’

ST. PETERSBURG — Musically, the creative team behind the St. Petersburg Opera’s season-ending musical, The Music Man, were clearly going all out. Meredith Willson’s paean to small-town Americana outdid West Side Story in the 1958 To...
Updated one month ago