By John Quinn
While by no means the smallest venue in Metro Detroit, Ferndale’s Ringwald Theatre is bustin’ at the seams this month with 11 one-act plays and scads of your favorite actors and directors. The occasion is the third installment of the Gay Play Series, which has proven so popular that the number of scripts submitted for production has burgeoned from 17 the first year to 175 this season. Presumably we’re seeing the best of the best. Some of them are sketches or vignettes; others are fully realized, but very short, plays. GPS is like a box of chocolates: Not everything is going to be to your taste, but the offerings are so good you’ll be glad you sampled every one.
The plays are split into blocks, played as two separate performances. In Block A, we find Tony Foster’s wildly original “Defrost,” directed by PJ Jacokes. The bliss of new couple Jeremy St. Martin and Travis Pelto is threatened by a possible menage a trois, which includes the mysterious Chef Colette (Michelle Giorlando). “Defrost” is a bright bit of comedy, intelligently played.
“Turnaround,” by Ringwald’s artistic director, Joe Bailey, turns the magnifying glass on the repulsive specimens who lurk in the underbelly of the film industry. Jamie Richards, Melissa Beckwith and Heidi Bennett ably portray some of the most vapid, unpleasant characters in memory – no one could you take home to mother.
“Queer/Trek” by Brian Walker takes a predictable plot and stands it on its ear. We find coming out as gay to the folks may not be as hard as coming out as a Trekkie (or is “Trekker” more P.C.?). As directed by Gary Lehman, the comic build to an unexpected climax is perfect.
“Mate Trade” by Laura Witkowski & Cara Trautman mocks the “Wife Swap” genre of TV reality series. Matios Simonian hosts one half of a lesbian couple, Laura Heikkinen, in his Ann Arbor home. Director Topher Payne follows the playwrights’ lead in deftly managing stereotype for comedy without cliche.
Kristian O’Hare crafted a beautifully insightful piece in “Fanny Packs & Hanky Codes,” directed by Matthew Turner Shelton. Identifying what someone else needs is a lot harder than identifying the color of a kerchief in the dim lighting of a leather bar.
“Homochondria” by Brad Baron and directed by Michelle Leroy is an over-the-top burlesque concerning the cursed Casey Hibbert, his long-suffering partner, Joe Plambeck, and a Ghost of Divas Past and Present (Heidi Bennett). The result is good, silly fun.
Block B consists of five plays, beginning with “Ask Me! Tell Me!” by Andrew Charles Lark. This vignette would have benefitted with a less literal interpretation. Caryn Hottle-Malion spontaneously plays a Cyrano-like stand in at the airport where Curtis Younce is meeting his e-mail pal, Casey, as the G.I. returns from deployment overseas. “Ask Me! Tell Me!” is directed by Nancy Arnfield.
Directed by Lisa Melinn, “Pocket Universe” by Duncan Pflaster is a subtle, layered fantasy of unrequited love. Richard Payton and Brian Papandrea play on a bare stage, accompanied by fine lighting and sound effects. This bittersweet script is a totally original spin on an old theme.
“Ten Picnics” by Mark Harvey Levine is a tender homage to the family and the circle of life that drives it. Director Joe Plambeck allows Cal Schwartz to unleash his inner child; Genevieve Jona and Melissa Beckwith play not only his mothers, but all the other women in his life. This is an intelligent script, gracefully handled.
“A Streetcar Named Viagra” by Daniel Curzon is another screwball comedy, concerning the work-in-progress “A Streetcar Named Desire” that, thank the Muses, never got to Broadway. We meet the fiery redhead, Desiree Viagra, (the towering, high-heel-shod Nick Gnagi) who is auditioning for the role of Lance Dubois. Yes, you read that right; there’s a whole lot of gender-bending goin’ on. Directed by Sean McClellan and featuring Pete Podolski and Brad Stephens, “Streetcar” will cause a bad case of the giggles once you accept the preposterous plot.
Joe Bailey tackles the most difficult script in the collection. The others are full of humor and affection, but there’s nothing funny in “Break My Face on Your Hand” by Daniel Talbott. There’s nothing funny in bullying. Jeffrey Vincent Howson and Christopher Burns play a high school bully and his victim. Avoiding suspension by spending time with his victim, the bully nevertheless continues harassment. There is a structural problem with the script that, while the plot moves efficiently from Point A to Point B, the characters, as written, lack the emotional nuances one would expect in that progress.
Audience members for GPS will be voting for their favorite script. The winner will receive an additional performance at the closing ceremonies on Monday, June 25 at 8 p.m. and will subsequently receive a full production at The Ringwald Theatre. Audience members will also be asked to vote for a favorite actor and director. Imagine that: You little people having the opportunity to be critics for a day, possessing the demi-godlike power that goes with our exalted profession! Wield it if you dare!
‘Gay Play Series’
The Ringwald Theatre, 22742 Woodward Ave., Ferndale. Block A: 8 p.m. June 22 & 1 p.m. June 24; Block B: 8 p.m. June 23 & 5 p.m. June 24; Closing ceremonies: 8 p.m. June 25. Running time: About 100 minutes each block. $10 per event. 248-545-5545. http://www.TheRingwald.com