The Gay No More Telethon
nytheatre.com review by Melanie N. Lee
August 8, 2008
Sick of being homosexual? Want to help a gay become an ex-gay? Call 1-800-1-HOMO-NO and donate to The "Gay No More" Telethon! "Let's get one thing straight—you!"
With book and lyrics by Michael DiGaetano and music by DiGaetano and Albin Konopka, and directed by Dennis Erdman, The Gay No More Telethon tunefully thrashes both the TV telethon and the hand-wringing over homosexuality by followers of what I call Southern-fried Christianity. The Reverend Wiley Ray Henderson's Religious Broadcasting Network seeks "to help turn every homosexual straight by the Rapture or by the 2014 Winter Olympics, whichever comes first."
In the opening "Saturday Night Blessed" skit, a winged Saint Peter guarding Heaven's gates sings of a wife-beating thief: "He does not belong in Hades / Since he just had sex with ladies." Of a snobbish tightwad: "She was tight with all her savings / But she had no same-sex cravings." To a gay male nurse who comforted the sick: "You'll be asking Jack the Ripper / What he’s got behind that zipper / We don't want your kind up here / Hitler takes it up the rear."
Staffing the telethon are all ex- or soon-to-be-ex-gays, including the Reverend, who financed RBN by selling his porn collection on eBay (after diligent reading), and hosts Country Joe and Barbara Joe Barbara, celebrating their first year of hetero bliss. (She exalts, "From now on I'll eat meat instead of fish!") The acts include country singers CW Singer and KY Lee, singing Mountie Bartholomew Softwood, Arnie the Fundamentalist Christian Dinosaur, and puppeteer Jody Butler with Miss Thang (a sassy black female puppet, what else?). Meanwhile the boys who take the phone calls, such as Billy Zoom and Rick, discover that leaving the gay way is no roll in the hay.
The play's clever premise evokes many laughs. So do the well-crafted, tuneful, sometimes raunchy songs, though you might not walk out of the theatre humming them. I credit the show for focusing upon the primary issue—same-sex versus opposite-sex attraction—rather than harping on secondaries, such as preferring figure skating to football.
The performances are excellent, particularly Corey Glover (lead singer of the band Living Colour) as Reverend Henderson, and David Abeles and Gerti Lee James as the Barbaras. Others in this well-voiced, well-characterized cast, some of whom play several roles, include Michael D. Jablonski (Billy), Scott Thomas (Rick), Kurt Robbins (CW), Edward Staudenmayer (Arnie, Jody), Laura Beth Wells (KY, Betty Jean Bradley), Michael F. McGuirk (St. Peter, Softwood) and Aaron Young (Skip Peters).
The choreography by Sara Brians and assistant, Alison Levenbert is precise and funny. Sarah Armstrong's oft-delicious costumes include t-shirts with crossed-out rainbows and "Gay? No Way!" baseball caps.
Some of the dramatic "off-camera" scenes, particularly when the phone boys get sincere, lack the skill or intensity of the comedic telethon scenes, dropping the show's energy. Satires like The Gay No More Telethon often climax to a serious thematic moment, but the non-comedic moments before then need sharpening, or emotional lift.
Also, the show leans too heavily upon well-worn Southern White Christian stereotypes; putting a slick Black preacher at the helm is a welcome break. The scriptural questions near the end may remind us that serving God is not all about disparaging gays. The Gay No More Telethon is a well-woven work with just a couple of loose strands.