Wednesday, July 15, 2009

GableStage: The New Century (4 reviews) Rudnick's The New Century opened at GableStage on June 20, 2009.
This riotous comedy, which was produced at Lincoln Center last season, revolves around a Jewish mother from Long Island, a flamboyant resident from Palm Beach and a Midwest craftswoman visiting New York for the first time. These delicious, distraught characters collide under surprising circumstances, as we discover just where our new century might by heading.
Joe Adler directed a cast that includes John Felix, Patti Gardner, Daniel Gardner, Sally Bondi, and Jehane Seralles.

Ron Levitt reviewed for Florida Media News:
Joe Adler once again proves why he constantly wins awards for direction and for selecting plays which will entertain.
...a mind-juggling, ferociously funny performance by Carbonell-winner Patti Gardner...
...a crackerjack performance by the brilliantly funny John Felix... irresistibly ingratiating and touching Sally Bondi ...
The colorful but simple set by Tim Connellly, the sound and music by Matt Corey, lighting by Jeff Quinn, and the creative costuming by Ellis Tillman all add up to the usual professional standards and Carbonell award dominance which have made GableStage such a powerful venue in South Florida. This show may be a far cry from GableStage customary dramatic shows, but its sugary, laugh-provoking stimulus proves to be an unexpected delicacy.
Brandon K. Thorp reviewed for the Miami New Times:
The New Century is a confusing place, but a good one.
The first and better half of the play comprises three monologues from these characters, and taken alone they're great theater. Rudnick, who is very gay, is an ironist deeply in love with his targets... For these characters he begins with broad stereotypes that we're primed to laugh at — judgmental Jewish mum, aging queen, tacky Midwesterner — and personifies them until we're ashamed of our own stereotyping.
Both Rudnick's peculiar genius and Gardener's massive heart are evident in every inflection of her performance here. This allows us to see three things simultaneously: that Nadler really believes what she's saying; that she desperately loves her children; and that beneath her mother-lioness devotion to them, she is terrified that all of this is bad and wrong.
The self-proclaimed Gayest Man In The World, Mr. Charles (John Felix), sounds like Liberace and looks like Rod Roddy. Felix is decked out fabulously: soft blue eye makeup, subtle pink lipstick, and so much pastel on his leisure suits it's as if they turned Wes Anderson's career into a garment.
The New Century's themes of loss, unrootedness, and uncertainty come together most clearly and poignantly in the person of Barbara Ellen (Sally Bondi), the Midwesterner. As a member of an urban and relatively hip audience, I was primed to laugh at her most of all. She is deep, deep, deep into crafts — if it's tacky and involves glue, or fabric, or whatever, she'll make it. As created by Bondi, whose talent and subtlety are apparently boundless, she comes off initially as a cartoon. No one in the real world is this innocent.
But she is no cartoon. There is something a little scary in the way she rattles off the many variants and materials of her crafty folk art — papier-mache, macramé, human hair — and just doesn't stop. The audience laughs, but she doesn't notice... And when she explains the latest use to which she's put her crafts-making skills — creating her dead son's panel on the AIDS quilt — you realize that, for her, crafts are no mere hobby. They are what she has left.
The New Century could just as easily be titled Like a Rolling Stone. It is a portrait of good, smart people struggling to orient themselves in an era unmoored from old, reliable constants of heterosexuality, family, and faith. All alone, on their own, with no direction home, they study themselves: What is my life to be in this brave new world? Under these conditions, is happiness possible? How does it feel? Rudnick's answer: Scary. And wonderful.
The Sun-Sentinel sent out Rod Stafford Hagwood instead of a theatre critic: he starts off with the usual hideous sentence fragments aimed at the children he seems to believe makes up the local theatre audience. But once you get through the first four paragraphs, he actually manages to review the show:
... the collection of one-acts by Paul Rudnick -- staged at GableStage at the Biltmore in Coral Gables -- makes for a breezy 90 minutes with no intermission, ending just before wearing out its welcome. And in the more sobering moments afterward, you realize, with a chuckle, that there were a few misses among the many hits.
Gardner gives Nadler just the right amount of shrugging acquiescence, even as her accent fades in and out.
You would think that John Felix as the camp queen Mr. Charles would be swinging for the fey fences. The setup is just too delicious. Mr. Charles has been exiled from New York to Palm Beach for being too gay, where he shares his cable access show with his gigolo boy-toy Shane (Daniel Landon). There is a flash of funny here and there about homo-homogenization, but nothing ignites. But believe this: When they say "gratuitous frontal nudity," in this case they really mean "extremely gratuitous" and "extremely frontal.
Sally Bondi -- the most natural actor onstage -- delivers in the third scene as Barbara Ellen Diggs, an arts & crafts enthusiast from Decatur, Ill. Where the previous playlet lacked limberness and comes off brittle, Bondi settles in, fleshing out the mother who has lost her son Hank to AIDS in New York with so much talent that she burns off all the silly caricature right down to the bony gravitas, leaving a woman who only hopes to make "something worth dusting."
The big idea -- that this new century is about diversity and acceptance -- is almost lost in the last scene complete with an awkward musical ending headlined by (and this is a big problem) Shane. Rudnick takes a big swerve and the director and cast dutifully lean into it, hoping to keep at least two wheels on the road. But The New Century comes to a crashing and unsatisfying end.
Still, I can't help but wonder what Bill Hirschman would have written. The Sun-Sentinel probably thinks they have good cause to send out a fashion editor instead of a theatre critic, but the bottom line is that they don't. Bill's a theatre critic, and Rod's, well, whatever it is he is. Someone who can type, I guess. Sun-Sentinel's readers deserve to have someone with a background in reviewing theater doing just that.

Christine Dolen
reviewed for the Miami Herald:
If you're in search of some summer laughs, Paul Rudnick's The New Century at GableStage will supply them. Lots of them.
Gardner kicks things off as Helene Nadler, a proud Jewish mother from Long Island who may be the most accepting mom in history.
Felix is the gleefully flamboyant Mr. Charles, a middle-of-the-night cable access host with a little show he calls Too Gay...The showoff bit in Mr. Charles is the TV host's 60-second rendition of the history of gay theater in America -- topped off by gratuitous full-frontal male nudity courtesy of (Daniel Landon).
Bondi hits all the right notes here, finding the empathetic dignity within Barbara Ellen and making her thoroughly endearing.
And then there's the last, character-combining coda. Helene, Mr. Charles, Shane, Barbara Ellen and Joann Milderry (Jehanne Seralles), a new mom who happily allowed Mr. Charles to zap her baby boy and transform him into a gay tyke dubbed ''Mr. Max,'' all convene in the maternity ward of a New York hospital. For no reason, really, except that they're each seeking a kind of comfort from viewing rows of innocent new life. And Rudnick needed an ending.
Director Joseph Adler keeps the cast careening from one laugh to the next until that final bit, which is supposed to be bad and lame. But not that bad.
The New Century plays at GableStage through July 19, 2009.

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