The Gayest Christmas Pageant Ever!
nytheatre.com review by Micah Bucey
November 23, 2009
Full disclosure: I am a camp queen. I am totally on board for train wrecks. I delight in the deliriously disastrous. And after seeing his The Gayest Christmas Pageant Ever!, currently at the Actors' Playhouse, I assume that writer/director Joe Marshall is in the same, um, camp. This two-hour romp through the trials and tribulations of a down-on-its-luck community theatre and its inept attempt to stage the aforementioned pageant is chock-full of swishy gays, brutish lesbians, piggish bigots, well-intentioned straights, and even a sassy Jesus. From the outset, it is quite apparent that Marshall wants to be in on the joke, and he most often is. The fact that this production also often feels a bit overstuffed is disappointing, because lurking inside this long play is a great idea for a one-act. It is uncertain which direction Marshall wants to take his audience. The piece feels a bit too sweet to be offensive, but a bit too off-color to be heartwarming. What results is an odd hybrid of broad comedy and unwarranted sincerity that never fully gels.
There is much ribald humor to commend here. Marshall is adept at creating sitcom-style situations and at writing one-liners. Most of the sometimes-uneven cast delivers his/her dialogue winningly, willing to play along with the outlandish nature of the proceedings. Jason B. Schmidt in particular has perfected his impersonation of everyone's favorite hateful theatre queen to a tee, and all on stage are offered at least one or two moments to shine. And what a large group it is! At a time when most theatres are producing three-actor comedies, hoping to cut budget costs, Marshall has employed no fewer than 23 actors to bring his story to life. This deserves accolades in and of itself. Does he need to spread the character list over so many actors? No. Could the play be performed with ten or less actors? Probably. But there is something joyous about seeing so many mugging faces running around the Actors' Playhouse's cramped stage. This joy nearly makes us forget that this is a thin plot stretched over two acts, but not quite. By show's end, the audience at the performance I witnessed seemed a bit worn out and weary. And a long scene late in the game that seems to beg us to take these characters seriously feels a bit forced when plopped in the middle of the other more uncompromising scenes.
But for every tired joke (an elderly flatulent accompanist) there is an equally clever one (the same accompanist's sweetly combative outbursts, greatly aided by Ree Davis's performance), and I was ultimately left with a feeling of qualified elation. Like their characters, Marshall and his cast have their eyes fixed solely on putting on a show, and even if it is a bit repetitive and under-rehearsed, what's the harm if we're having fun? The lighting, set, and costume design add even more flavor to the thrown-together aspect of the evening, and in the end, this well-populated but little show is exactly and perfectly as advertised.