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The New Century

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If laughter is the best medicine, “so what, who cares?”. . .

by Donalevan Maines

If laughter is the best medicine, “so what, who cares?” about health-insurance reform? Line up for the happy pills in gay New York Jewish funnyman Paul Rudnick’s quotable one-liners in The New Century, the 90-minute comedy collection that director Joe Watts’ Theatre New West opened Wednesday night at Sorrom Studio in Weslayan Plaza. The laugh doctor is “in.”

Even if you’re feeling no pain, it’ll get better as soon as put-upon Jewish mother Helene Nadler (Josephine John) steps onstage to dress down the Massapequa, Long Island, chapter of “Parents of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, the Transgendered, the Questioning, the Curious, the Creatively Concerned and Others.” Within seconds, she’s saying F-U to anyone in the audience who thinks his/her plight even comes close to hers as a parent of not one, not two, but three LGBT misfits. We even get to meet her youngest, David—clad in slave leather, lean and luscious Lance Marshall is a feast for sore eyes. More eyes are on him than whatever else might be going onstage. But I digress.

Their segment, “Pride and Joy,” is a worthy warm-up to Taavi Mark’s unforgettable title character in “Mr. Charles, Currently of Palm Beach.” Mr. Chuck to us, he’s a flaming Old School queen banished to the “Sun Life” State from Manhattan for being “too gay.” As the unrepentant host of a late-night cable TV show, Mr. Charles luxuriates in flamboyant schtick that Rudnick preened to perfection in his biggest hits to date, Jeffrey and The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told.

But as Mr. Charles, he winks to rapt fans, “Let us not resort to easy stereotypes.” Such as his on-air boy toy Shane? Well, why not? It gives the show an excuse—as if it needs one—to wow the audience with more of Marshall in increasingly sexy costumes.

We also meet Joann Milderry (Rachel Moore) as a young mother seeking the secret of Mr. Charles’s fabulousness.

The third playet is an alternately silly and poignant monologue by Barbara Ellen Diggs, a Decatur, Ill., arts & crafts junkie who might as well be from Decatur, Tex. Sadly, her gay son died with AIDS. Happily, they learned to love each other unconditionally.

In the final segment of the show, Diggs happens to return to the New York City hospital where her son died, only to meet Helene, Mr. Charles, Shane, and Joann, in a maternity ward filled with babies on the threshold of their futures in the new century. It’s here that Marshall’s Shane fully blossoms, his wide-eyed innocence persuading the others to embrace the moral of the show which, I think, is that what doesn’t kill you makes you a better shopper.

Kudos to director Watts and the quintet of actors who shine throughout the play. Not only is Josephine John amazing as Helene, she’s also drop-dead gorgeous. How is it that at mid-career, the closer she gets, the better she looks? I would go see her perched in a chair at the mall, just to be in the presence of such beauty.

Taavi Mark is gay as a goose as Mr. Charles, and a one-eighty from his brilliant turn last year as a gay-hating German Jew crumbling in a concentration camp in the Holocaust drama The Timekeepers for Theatre New West. His co-star in that drama was Lance Marshall, who defies the shallow pretty-boy image we get of Shane in the first two scenes when he explodes with infectious energy in the finale. Marshall is a Houston theater treasure. By curtain call, I kid you not, you’ll be young Brandon de Wilde as Joey, calling “Shane! Come back!”

Julie Oliver gifts the role of Barbara Ellen Diggs with a humanity that soars far beyond what’s on the page. This is no caricature; this is a mother.

Theatre New West newcomer Rachel Moore’s loveliness is crucial to the entire endeavor. Somehow, she makes it seem perfectly logical that Joann would want her baby’s life to eschew black & white for a colorful world like Mr. Charles’s.

I laughed—a lot (Don to Doctor: is it my funny bone?). Once, I even choked up (Doctor to Don: you do have a heart!). I cracked up when Barbara Ellen mistook 9/11’s “Muslim terrorists” for lower-case “muslim” terrorists. Tears came when I proudly recalled how my own precious mother, an accomplished seamstress, stitched the AIDS Quilt panel in memory of my other half.

Now I’m registering how wonderful it was for Michael’s family to come across country to stay with us the last month of his life. Through tears, I’m chuckling at my quip, from years ago, that “they were more help than they were trouble, and they were a lot of trouble!”

Wednesday night’s performance of The New Century was proof positive that laughter can cure heartache without hitting us on the head that love is the answer.

Parents, cherish your offspring. Children, forgive ignorant parents. Don’t hide from them, so they can watch and learn: in time, they will grow up.

Laugh. Cry. It’s the new century. Seize it today!

The New Century continues through April 3. For reservations, call 713/522-2204 or 713/201-3961.

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Don Maines

Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.
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