The plot, such as it is, is based on a decent, or at least amusing, premise. In West Hollywood, producers Manny (Adam Weinstock) and Don (Blaine Pennington), founders of a theater company, are desperate to mount a money-making play after presenting a series of flops written and directed by Rod (played as a screeching sack of stereotypes by Jason B. Schmidt), their co-founder and Manny’s lover. Over Rod’s hurt objections, they hire creepy gay playwright M&M (Chris von Hoffman) to replace him as author of their yearly Christmas pageant, but are forced to use Rod’s script when M&M storms out in a rage, for predictably ridiculous reasons. Luckily for them, Rod’s script is not terrible – but, realizing that he will become insufferable if they admit that to him, they change the title and attempt to keep him away from the production.Complicating their plan is the rest of the theater’s staff, including the "sassy" costume designer, Tarquin (Jonathan Chang); one-man-stage-crew (and perpetually stoned heterosexual) Jim (Ryan Wright); and Janet (Elyse Beyer), their reasonably competent but extremely high-strung stage manager. After Rod is conveniently sidelined by a falling stage light Jim incompetently rigged, they hire Margie (Crystal Cotton), a successful director from
What follows are a series of excruciatingly tasteless jokes featuring a snow-excreting Santa Claus; a flatulent and deaf accompanist (Ree Davis); and Jim’s narcoleptic, Tourette’s afflicted bigot of a mother (Emily Schramel), whose apparent sole purpose is to give the author the chance to use the expression “darkie” in his script. Later, the cast of characters is joined by Jesus – yes, that Jesus – who, like
Of course, in the tradition of Noises Off, everything that can go wrong with the production does. The cast is terrible. The crew is incompetent. And everyone keeps having to deal with Tyrone, the angry black guy who left his gun at the audition (played by a game Kershel Anthony).
This sounds like it could be a South Park-esque, irreverent, so-offensive-it’s-funny, celebration of poor taste, and at times it seems clear that that is
Meanwhile, the plot is not merely convoluted, but incoherent. For one thing, the playwright, for all of his supposed theatrical experience, seems to lack a working knowledge of how the theater business works, or simply thinks the audience won’t notice or care about the glaring incongruities. How has the theater company survived all this time? Do the founders have regular jobs? If they’re a legitimate company, why is the cast and crew made up of amateurs? And if they’re simply a community theater, why are they getting reviewed in major newspapers? If the play moved faster (or had more competent actors), these questions would be irrelevant, but
As the second act opens, it seems for a moment that The Gayest Christmas Pageant Ever! is finding its purpose. When we see the problematic rehearsal for the play-within-the-play, there are some genuinely funny moments. However, things are quickly derailed again when
In fairness, there are at least a few decent actors in the play, who deserved better material to work with. Cotton manages to create a believable character out of her worldly lesbian director, and the romantic leads, Wright and Beyer, are amiable if not particularly three-dimensional. In bit parts, Alexandra Dickson, who plays a butch (and put-upon) angel, and Kymberlie Joseph, channeling Hattie McDaniel as Tyrone’s mother, earn actual laughs during their brief appearances. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast struggles with the material, mugging through lines and situations that are already overly broad. Several of the actors seem to be genuine amateurs – Chang might have been funny, but it was hard to tell, since he had trouble projecting in the small space. Weinstock, whose theatrical credits are largely behind-the-scenes, looks and sounds uncomfortable on stage.
If this review seems unnecessarily harsh, it is only because plays like this are offensive at a deeper level than the jokes in them. Earlier, I wrote that most bad theater is made with good intentions, but my guest and I left The Gayest Christmas Pageant Ever! feeling doubtful that this play was mounted for anything other than cynical reasons. Sadly, if the play’s main purpose is to exploit audiences who will be attracted to anything with the word “gay” in the title, it may succeed. In promotional material, the producers quote comedienne Kathy Griffen proclaiming, “The title alone is brilliant!” While
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