Thursday, February 13, 2014

Review - The Tribute Artist

I don't think it's any secret that I ADORE Charles Busch.  His writing, his acting, everything.  I want him to win every award ever invented, and possibly we should invent some new ones so he can win those as well.  So of course when Primary Stages announced they were doing Charles' new play, I pounced.  My Impossibly Handsome Ballet Buddy (also known as IHBB in his guest blog post) is also my Impossibly Handsome Charles Busch Play Buddy, so I guess we could change the acronym to IHCBPB.  Or not.  Anyway, he and I went to 59E59 last night to partake of the latest Charles Busch hilarity.

The Tribute Artist takes place in a stunning Greenwich Village townhouse (the set and costumes are magnificent for this production) - at the top of the show, we meet Adriana, the owner of the townhouse, who is giving away her glorious fashions to Jimmy, a 'tribute artist' (not a drag queen, thank you very much) who happens to occasionally rent a room in the townhouse.  We also meet Jimmy's best friend, Rita, a failed real estate agent and former improv partner.  Jimmy and Rita are OF COURSE played by Charles and Julie Halston.  And of course their long-term friendship and working collaboration completely informs everything they do.  Their rapport and comic timing is just genius.  Cynthia Harris plays Adriana and she is also terrific in her brief time on stage.  Her complete antipathy to Halston's character is hysterical and Harris' line readings are impeccable throughout. 

It's not a spoiler to say that Adriana does not survive the first scene (by natural causes, though!), and that Jimmy and Rita concoct a scheme where Jimmy will impersonate Adriana long enough for Rita to sell this valuable real estate property for scads of money, which they will then split.  What can go wrong?  Ha!

Everything!  Of course wacky hijinks ensue, with a ton of fun, laughter and movie quotes.  The Tribute Artist is incredibly realistic, yet also entirely zany, and the two aspects of the play co-exist beautifully.  I seriously cracked up throughout, not just at the funny situations and funny dialogue, but I also laughed in understanding of these flawed characters who just want to make their lives better. 

photo credit: James Leynse
All of the actors are spot on - besides Charles, Julie and Cynthia, we also meet Mary Bacon, who plays Adriana's late husband's despised niece; Keira Keeley as the niece's transgendered son, born as Rachel but now named Oliver; and Jonathan Walker as Adriana's old boyfriend and now the object of Charles' affections.  They're quite a merry band and they each have their moments to shine.  Charles has written everyone wonderful speeches that allow them to take their comic moments, but also their humanizing moments as well.

First among equals, of course, is Charles.  He is always so charming onstage, it should be illegal, but I really enjoyed the quiet vulnerability he displayed as Jimmy.  A lot of the characters Charles portrays are the take-charge type, but Jimmy is much softer and he begins to revel in his portrayal of Adriana and begins to take seriously the idea of being the aunt/great aunt and mentor to these other crazy characters.  And he is also very touching in his quest for love from Jonathan Walker's character, Rodney.  The scene where Jimmy is trying to break through Rodney's defenses is very sweet.  I should also mention that Julie Halston has an amazingly hysterical monologue in the second act and she nearly caused a guy in the front row to collapse of a laughing fit.  We all were beginning to laugh at his complete loss of control.  More joy all around.  

photo credit: James Leynse
As always, I just loved loved loved my time in the theater, laughing and relating to a Charles Busch play.  And after the play was over, there was a talkback where I could revel in his personal charm and quite enlightening talk about his process as a writer and a collaborator.  The Tribute Artist, from start to finish and even after, was a delight.  Their run was just extended, so do yourself a favor and get over there.  See if you notice the Now Voyager reference more quickly than my IHCBPB and I did (which I hardly think is possible - we were gaffawing way before everyone else, lol).  In this freezing weather, a warm wonderful comedy is just the thing.  : )

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