nytheatre.com review by Kevin Connell
August 11, 2006
How does the son of a circus clown become one of New York's finest? And a gay one at that? Well, that's what Michael Tester sets out to tell us in his new play Blue Balls: In and Out of Uniform with the NYPD. He's accompanied by the talents of Alexandra Bosquet, CJ Dion, and Vincent Ortega, who are awesome as a rainbow of camped-up characters jolting in and out of Tester's ridiculous-but-true tale.
Tester's farce begins in 1969 and snowballs its way to the present. Not only do we get the story of the gay-boy-gone-cop, we also get some sense of gay history and even get to share in some universal gay icons like Judy Garland, Donny and Marie, and the Marlborough Man. Metaphorically, Blue Balls is a journey through the locker rooms of Tester's middle school and high school years and those other locker rooms encountered later as a cop. Always present is the name-calling, the pushing, and the über-males in testosterone overload. The payoff for this play, and for Tester himself, is in how he survives it all. In the end, he escapes the madness like a clown—with a smile, with laughter, with a light heart.
Rye Mullis's direction is fun. He simply doesn't take it all that seriously. He's in on the joke. And he trusts the Mad TV-like skit structure of the play. But, most important, he brings out the best in all his actors throughout the production. He sets a tone that rivals the best of circuses, and his world is fun, fun, fun. He knows the points that need to be made and allows the poignant moments to find their natural expression without any heavy-handed meddling.
Len Borovay's set is a simple rendering of flat walls and a curtain. His design intentionally evokes a one-dimensional cheesy community theatre set, a perfect tone for this sketch of a play. Timothy J. Conway's costumes are a parade of signature pieces that define Tester's outrageous characters with a masterful gay-camp sensibility. And Jessica Paz's sound design is full of bells and whistles that include the theme songs from two TV classics: Hill Street Blues and Cops.
Now—there are issues one can take with this production. The script itself begins to falter two-thirds of the way into the experience. Tester seems to be making up some of his dialogue on the spot, which interferes with the clean, fast pace established earlier in the production. Additionally, the play is broken up into two parts (with a total of ten scenes), but this structure has not been totally realized in Tester's writing and in Mullis's direction. It seems to me that this play is itching to be like the driver of a race car going 500 laps, faster and faster, to be the first to reach that checkered flag. I found the ten scene structure to be jarring and unnecessary. It kept throwing me out of the passenger's seat. I say, give me that seat belt and go as fast as you can. Shoot that start pistol and let the best man win.
Flaws aside, Tester, Bosquet, Dion, and Ortega are wonderfully enjoyable. And Blue Balls is a fun-see at the Fringe Fest.