Bait n' Swish
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
October 13, 2011
Bait 'n' Swish is the funniest evening of theater I've seen in quite a long time. It's written by David Sisco, who also co-stars as Charlie, a 30-year-old gay man who, in the first act, is searching for love and companionship, albeit rather warily. His pal Justin, played by Tom Gualtieri, has brought him to a gay speed dating evening at a Howard Johnson's in Hell's Kitchen. What follows is one of the most hilarious hours I've had the pleasure to witness, as Sisco and Gualtieri portray Charlie and Justin AND all of the (mostly freaky) men they encounter in this weird and wacky outing. Director Laura Josepher keeps the pace moving at lightning speed, and she and Sisco continually vary the format so that there's no time to get bored.
Mostly we marvel at the cavalcade of characters: the Star Trek geek, the therapist who's never off duty, the ultra-masculine "top man" looking for a threesome, the sweet Southern 21-year-old who's still a virgin. Many are over-the-top, while some, like Michael the lawyer (who spends his free time tagging endangered birds) are just too good to be true. As Charlie and Justin zip through the panoply of possibilities, they come to learn some important things about themselves and about their own relationship.
Act Two picks up three years later. Charlie has journeyed out to Boise, Idaho, ostensibly to try to write his second book while helping his aunt clear things out following the death of her husband. But Justin knows (and we know) that Charlie has an ulterior motive: he's on the run from problems here at home in NYC.
An immediate visit from his aunt's neighbor Delores Kinney pushes Charlie way outside his comfort zone. Delores, who is kind of like what Auntie Mame would have been like if she'd been a housewife in the American Heartland, drags Charlie unwillingly to the local gay bar, where he meets Ryan, a flaky ballet dancer; Adam, Ryan's former boyfriend, an attorney; and Bill, stone-faced and silent with surprising glimmers of passion. These three want to open a gay club in Boise, but the conservative City Council managed to rezone their proposed location before they could move forward. Delores convinces—no, orders—Charlie to help them write their appeal, and before you can say "White Party" Charlie is deeply immersed in helping the boys get their business off the ground.
As in the first part, the outlandish and unexpected goings-on frame the acquisition of important insight and self-knowledge for Charlie; he really does grow as a result of his experience out west. And so do we; and we also laugh and laugh, for this half of Bait 'n' Swish is every bit as funny the first.
The whole evening is a testament to the strength of Sisco's writing and the brilliant performances of Gualtieri and Sisco. Gualtieri, particularly, shines in the second act, in which he plays every character that's not Charlie—probably around two dozen or so, including a succession of outre drag queens; the delightful trio of Adam, Ryan, and Bill; and, especially, the formidable and fabulous Delores. That he does this without changing his costume or even adding a single prop or accessory makes the feat even more wondrous. We always know which character he's inhabiting at any given moment. Sisco has written enough meaty parts to satisfy an entire company of expert actors, and he's lucky that, in Gualtieri, he's got the one-man equivalent.
I LOVED Bait 'n' Swish. It's warm, witty, smart, and a ton of fun. It's ready to be moved to Broadway or some other place where Sisco, Gualtieri, and Josepher can share their work with a much larger audience and be well compensated for it. Producers, are you reading?