Adrift in Macao
nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
February 10, 2007
Christopher Durang and Peter Melnick's new musical, Adrift in Macao, is light as a feather, but funny as hell. This loving parody of film noir is relentlessly silly thanks to Durang's absurdist wit. He stops at nothing to get a laugh, and lands most of them easily, the result of both his well-seasoned craft and blatant shamelessness. Take this brief exchange, for example, at the top of the show:
RICK: See you around. I hope.
LUREENA: Well, it's a small cast.
Durang perfectly sets the tone for Adrift in Macao right away, letting the audience know what they're in for while assuring them that they're in good hands.
The show is set in Macao, China in 1952. Sultry American vamp Lureena, fresh off the boat and inexplicably looking for work as a nightclub singer (in Macao?), announces in the show's expositional opening number that she's "in a foreign city in a slinky dress." Right behind her is Mitch, also new to town, who describes himself as "38 to 45, sure of myself, and a little bored with myself." Sporting some stubble on his chiseled, leading-man chin, he declares himself to be "in a foreign city in a grumpy mood." He's on the trail of Mr. MacGuffin, a mysterious Keyser Söze-type criminal who framed him back in the States. Everywhere Mitch goes, he is urged not to mention MacGuffin's name in public, confirming his suspicion that he's come to the right place.
Before long the action centers on an upscale nightclub run by the American expatriate, Rick Shaw (get it?), who hires Lureena on the spot. She takes the headlining away from the club's other resident singer, Corinna, described by another character as an "evil princess of desire." She's hot-to-trot, for sure: in addition to having an unrequited yen for Rick, Corinna is also an opium addict. Then, there's the requisite Guy Friday, a Chinese native named Tempura ("Because I have been battered by life!") with a penchant for being cryptic and inscrutable. These colorful characters romp mischievously through Adrift in Macao, plotting romantic machinations while trying to get to the heart of a mystery.
Not that any of that matters to Durang and Melnick. Adrift in Macao just serves as the vessel for them to poke good-natured fun not only at film noir but musical theatre, as well. When Lureena has to make up the lyrics to her nightclub debut, "Pretty Moon Over Macao," Durang gives her ridiculously corny lines like, "Your yellow haze drips to Earth / Like chamomile tea." Later, in "Sparks," Mitch and Lureena woo each other while the latter presses a raw steak to her face, treatment for a shiner she just received in a bar scuffle. For his part, Melnick supplies a cache of tuneful old-fashioned melodies that reinforce the kind of stuff Adrift in Macao gleefully spoofs.
Director Sheryl Kaller guides the production with a confidently screwball hand, proving herself to be just as twisted and irreverent as Durang. Choreographer Christopher Gatelli executes some fine dance numbers on the cozy 59E59 mainstage, aided in no small part by Adrift in Macao's talented two-person "Trenchcoat Chorus," Jonathan Rayson and Elisa Van Duyne. Alan Campbell is an excellent and dashing lead as Mitch, and Rachel De Benedet is equally alluring as Lureena. They do indeed set off sparks together with their collective acting and singing abilities. Will Swenson is broodingly flustered as the jaded Rick Shaw. Orville Mendoza and Michele Ragusa are the real finds, though. As Tempura and Corinna, respectively, they are the living embodiments of Durang's special brand of lunacy.
Adrift in Macao is one pleasure that audiences don't have to feel guilty about liking. Embrace its zaniness, and the opportunity to enjoy a new treat from one of modern theatre's great comic minds.