Moral Values: A Grand Farce
nytheatre.com review by Larry Kunofsky
August 13, 2006
The title speaks for itself: Moral Values, A Grand Farce, or, Me No Likey The Homo Touch-Touch. As with many FringeNYC shows, your feelings about the title will most probably inform your feelings about the show.
In this play's Bizarro-World future, our government has not only legalized gay marriage but has also instituted a law that requires every straight family to house a gay married man in the name of understanding and tolerance. This is a very funny idea that doesn't make too much sense, and Moral Values is a very funny play that doesn't make a lot of sense, either. This is perplexing coming from a political satire, but if you like your satire broad, this show's for you.
Our story begins one morning in the home of John (Josh LaCasse) and Margaret (Carrie McCrossen), and their teenage kids, Stacy (Maria McConville) and Michael (Roger Lirtsman). John, a raging homophobe, having just learned of this new proclamation, goes completely nuts. He holds an emergency family meeting, instructing the family to treat their soon-to-arrive resident homosexual with extreme prejudice. Despite the paternal influence, everyone else in this family is too busy being some other kind of crazy to join John in his bigotry. Margaret acts as John's cheerleader, echoing his hostile statements, but this is just a smokescreen to distract from her affair with Estaban (Graham Skipper), the mailman. Stacy is running some kind of porn site online, and Michael is obsessing about the track team and the steroids he keeps taking, which don't seem to be doing much for him. Yes, it's a pretty messed up family, folks.
Enter Steven (Isaac Oliver), dressed in a pink shirt and equipped with all the stereotypical gay affectations. He's the family's government project. The trick here, though, is that Steven's not actually gay. The government project ran out of actual married gays, Steven explains, and so they first resorted to unmarried gays, and then wound up using straight guys who everybody thought were gay, which brings us to Steven.
A great deal of this is very funny. There is also a lot that is, alas, painfully unfunny. At its best, Moral Values comes across as a lesser Christopher Durang effort or a really good Saturday Night Live sketch. At its worst, it's more like Mad TV.
What saves the script from being mediocre is Ian McWethy's writing, particularly when lambasting the hypocrisy and madness of bigotry. The playwright loses sight of what he's satirizing (or at least I did), but there are some sharp observations here. What also helps is Jeffrey Glaser's buoyant direction (he has all the actors enter and exit dancing, and the show ends with a very enjoyable dance number). The best part of the show is the fine comic ensemble acting. LaCasse has a bit of Ben Stiller in him, taking pigheaded indignation to new comic heights. McCrossen is even funnier in her pitch-perfect Automated Voice than she is as Margaret (and she's funny to begin with). McConville and Lirtsman effectively lampoon the teenager ethos with brio, just as Oliver skewers our perceptions of gayness, while all three play their characters with sympathy. Graham Skipper and Richardson Jones do triple and quadruple duty (respectively) in multiple roles.
I saw this show with a very young crowd and was delighted by their enthusiasm. It's surprisingly rare to see audiences having this good a time in the theatre, but maybe shows like Moral Values will make it happen more often.