One of the cool parts about Diversionary Theatre's When Pigs Fly is the musical accompaniment-or, to put it another way, the lack of it. A lone pianist (Steve Withers) backs the six singers/dancers in what are often some serious production numbers. Withers is thus just one of the guys, left to rise or fall on his own efforts. There's an openness and a reassurance in that; now, nobody can hide behind Withers' mistakes, or he theirs (not that he or they make many).
Withers' presence makes a total of seven players-eight if you count the curtain, whose chunky red pleats punctuate just about every scene. Everybody and everything, in fact, is under scrutiny in this good gay musical revue, which opens Diversionary's 21st season. You're in your element if the camp factor fuels your theater, because the Howard Crabtree-Mark Waldrop script is loony with it. But there's also a lot going on under the crazy costumes and shaved legs. Watch what happens between numbers, when the actors milk the bridges and create mini-scenes unto themselves. This show is as much a physical continuum as it is a commentary on gay exuberance. No way will it impact gay and straight audiences the same-but on either side, there's quite a bit to like.
In a sense, the play is a biography-not only did Crabtree help write it, he's also the main character. Here, he (played by Eric Vest) is mercilessly chastised by high school guidance counselor Miss Roundhole (Omri Schein), who advises him to give up his obsession with the Ziegfeld-style musicals he wants to mount in New York one day. Roundhole predicts Crabtree will make it to Broadway "when pigs fly"-but it's a cinch Crabtree will get there amid his talent for transforming innocuous objects into outlandish costumes. The finale, "Over the Top," is his testament to unwavering perseverance.
Crabtree, who died of AIDS in 1996, was a highly regarded costumer, which explains a lot about the garb-driven nature of the piece. There's so much drag in designer Shulamit Nelson's wardrobe that co-directors Rick Simas and Lisa Drummond could have staged this thing at a speedway. Matthew Weeden's frock and wig are a hoot in "Coming Attractions with Carol Ann," wherein Weeden's frumpy Carol Ann Knippel announces an imaginary season of musicals at the Melody Barn. Schein dresses down for his cocktail ballads-three sick, too-funny numbers in which he dishes on the torch he carries for Dick Cheney and how he's pining to "do for you what you are doing to our nation." At either extreme, choreographer Aaron Pomeroy has done double-edged due diligence. He's blocked nicely to both the cast's body types and composer Dick Gallagher's musical scope.
But it all comes back to Crabtree's original ideas for the outerwear. It's amazing how a toilet plunger or a shower hose can enhance gay fashion. Even dressing tables are de rigueur as Crabtree hammers on Broadway's door in "Wear Your Vanity with Pride."
Erick Sundquist, by the way, makes a strikingly pretty girl-and he, Trevor Peringer and Anthony Randall do some of their smartest ensemble work between scenes. A look, a kick, a swish, and we're off to the next Waldrop sketch amid lingering memories of the last, replete with quippy takes on KY jelly and Staten Island fairies.
Has it all been done before? Exactly 1 million times. Gay-inspired cavalcades have been all over the place since the 1950s. Will it all be done again? Exactly 1 million times, especially as gay culture meets with mainstream acceptance. But the thing is that these guys clearly know that. Nobody has any preconceptions about this show's uniqueness. That takes the pressure off, and a freedom of spirit results at a minimum of personal expense.
Except for Cheney's. And that's fine by me.
This review is based on the performance of Aug. 3. When Pigs Fly runs through Aug. 20 at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Blvd., University Heights. $9-$27. 619-220-0097.
Rachel's coming home
My Name Is Rachel Corrie, the play that earlier this year generated widespread and vehement charges of censorship following its cancellation by a New York theater company, will have its American premiere in October at Greenwich Village's Minetta Lane Theatre.
The play, set to preview Oct. 5 and run in earnest Oct. 15 through Nov. 19, focuses on the life of the 23-year-old American activist killed in 2003 in the Gaza Strip town of Rafah as she protested Israel's treatment of Palestinians. The New York Theatre Workshop had scheduled the show's U.S. opening for March 22, following a successful London run, in which Sacramento native Megan Dodds starred. The company suddenly canceled the show in February, citing concerns over its potential effect on the city's Jewish community amid developments in the Middle East.
The decision sparked a media event, with everything from e-mails to a national magazine denouncing the Workshop for its perceived capitulation to unnamed censors.
In an April CityBeat story on the matter, San Diego's Mo`olelo Performing Arts Company said it is seeking the rights to the play. And the Seattle Repertory Theatre has scheduled a run for next spring. But one recent development suggests that several troupes will now follow suit. The Theatre Communications Group says it will publish the script in the United States beginning next month.
Corrie's death also inspired The Skies Are Weeping, Philip Munger's classical cantata for voice.