Steve Hayes' Hollywood Reunion
nytheatre.com review by Megin Jimenez
June 6, 2008
Steve Hayes' Hollywood Reunion, part of GAYFEST NYC, is a truly hilarious investigation of one man's obsession with the classic screen sirens of the 1940s and '50s and their role in shaping his outlook and identity. The autobiographical work was written by and stars Steve Hayes, and Steve Hayes is all we need onstage for a fast-paced and continuously funny experience.
Loosely structured around a Christmas trip to L.A. to cheer up an old friend, the performer invites us to their "Hollywood Babylon Homosexual Holiday," which features visits to landmarks and movie screenings in search of the silver screen's Golden Age. Full of digressions, bizarre trivia, and telescopic narratives, we are never sure where Hayes will take us next, but can be sure it will be fun—and eventually meander back to where we started. The script sparkles with wordplay and witty asides, and brings vivid details and perspective to a set-up that could have quickly fallen into clichés of family dysfunction or familiar jokes from the gay canon. Hayes also deftly balances his performance for a mixed audience, giving enough context to welcome those unfamiliar (gasp!) with old movies and gay pop culture, as well as spicy gossip and meaningful winks for those in the know.
The play is striving to be more than a comic confection (though I have the feeling that most would say the belly laughs alone are worth the price of admission), and it is these more serious narrative threads that are left loose in the end. It is to Hayes's credit that his shifts to the personal and emotional do not feel heavy-handed, though the welcome promise of insight into movies, gay identity, women's power, and the performer's own life does not entirely follow through.
Whether playing an elegant Latina drag queen, an aged Bette Davis, or his gruff but caring father, the actor's transformations are pitch-perfect and instantaneous. A montage of second-string film noir actresses delivering their juiciest lines is a wondrous theatrical homage to the film clip sequence, and is in itself more than enough reason to see the performance. Director Vincent J. Cardinal's simple staging lets Hayes's evocative powers shine through. Minimal props are used to their best effect (a simple door offers up several "dramatic" entrances and exits) and touches of music and light effects consistently work in harmony with the performer.
Laugh-out-loud comedy and solo performance are two endeavors that are terrifying in their prospect of falling flat, and Hayes negotiates both challenges seemingly effortlessly. Steve Hayes' Hollywood Reunion offers the rare treat of seeing a single person on a virtually empty stage enthrall an entire room with his storytelling and infectious energy.