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REVIEW: 'Most Fabulous Story' sometimes lives up to its billing
Company: Star Bar Players
Cast: Hossein Forouzandeh, Chris Medina, Marisa Hebert, Mallori Rouse, Sue Bachman and others
Director: George Spencer
Playwright: Paul Rudnick
Running time: About 3 hours with leisurely intermission
When: 8 p.m. Dec. 16-17, 20; 4 p.m. Dec. 18
Where: Theatre 'd Art, 128 N. Nevada Ave.
Tickets: $6-$15/Sunday pay what you can; firstname.lastname@example.org. or 357-5228
Something else: The run now includes a Tuesday performance.
Heads up: There is full-on nudity and dimly lit simulated sex.
There are reindeer and Santas in “The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told,” the first offering of Star Bar Player’s season. A Christmas tree and the nativity, too.
But don’t expect to settle in for Hallmark Hall of Fame holiday fare. Writer Paul Rudnick tells a feel-good story, but on the way, he gleefully questions our ideas about Christmas — as well, perhaps, of homosexuality, religion, the nature of love and the search for meaning.
I laughed during “Most Fabulous,” which was directed by “Bug” actor George Spencer. But, on Thursday night, a needless three-hour run time, tinny portrayals and two acts that seem from strikingly similar plays marred the best of this wacky, ideological travelogue.
“The Most Fabulous Story,” premiered Off-Broadway in 1998. Rudnick set out to spin the religious right’s best bumper sticker against homosexuality: “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” So here, Adam meets Steve, and in more ways than one.
The near nudity of these actors (they’re wearing only jock straps) for the first 30 minutes or so is jarring and fascinating. We’re used to ogling naked women in such settings, but men? Kissing, simulated sex and total, bouncing nudity was ... well, sort of odd. But it does its job: I was thrown into the deep end of Rudnick’s reinvention and ultimately, questions about what we accept as the status quo. Discomfort is the point, in a way.
The first act is packed with greatest hits of the Old Testament, including original sin (thank you, Adam), the Ark (no Noah, but there is a promenade deck) and a nativity (with wise guys). The second act catapults our band of four into near present day New York. The threads between them are clear, but the different tones and draggy pacing creates a dissappointing disconnect.
Hossein Forouzandeh (Adam) and Chris Medina (Steve) created a fairly convincing chemistry, which deepened in the second act, when the theatricality of caves and arks gave way to what we recognize as real life. I was moved, for instance, during the quiet moments of everyday love: leaning into each other on the couch or in a casual embrace. They are men, just men and they happen to be in love.
Unfortunately, Forouzandeh and Medina too often relied on stereotypical gestures (the limp wrists, for example) over authentic expressions of their characters. In those moments, I simply didn't buy Adam and Steve as real people.
Mallori Rouse, who was last seen on stage in a minor role in the FAC’s failed “The Women,” practically beamed throughout and delivered possibly the most convincing and holistic portrayal of the evening. Likewise, Marisa Hebert turned out a well-realized performance, although I’d be happy to see her in a role that doesn’t require expletives screamed at the top of her lungs.
The ensemble — Sean Verdu, Sue Bachman, Geoffrey Hawley and Katie Martin — was consistently fun to watch. Verdu demonstrated significant range — from Bible thumper to a go-go dancing elf. I saw real commitment in each character.
I wish that Hawley, who played the gay pharaoh and a curmudgeonly New York friend among other things, had had more stage time. And in Act II, he captured a kind of urban archness that Rosalind Russell would have envied.
And Bachman blew onto the second act set as the “Shebrew” — a wheelchair bound, lesbian rabbi with a popular community access channel gig — like 10 kinds of blustery weather. Before she was done, owned that room.
Kathy Paradise’s costumes were simple, but so specific and charmingly on the money. Video producer Kaleb Kohart (who is also an actor) and muralist Douglas Rouse created a multi-media stage device that I won’t reveal here. Suffice it to say that it was not only unexpected, but artfully effective.