If there is something inherently funny about women’s breasts and the seemingly endless quest for the sexual capital that comes from an augmented female form, then “Gay Deceivers” capitalizes on it — with a pseudo-feminist twist. The humor in this almost-farce also relies on the audience’s delight in seeing ostensibly straight men dressed (badly) as women.
The fact is, it is funny, and a even little bit smart, largely thanks to subtleties from a largely terrific cast of actors — though the jokes grow tiresome before they hit their peak.
“Gay Deceivers” is the Kalamazoo Craft Theater Project’s inaugural production, as well as the 2008 Baltimore Playwrights Festival Best New Play by PS Lorio. The show’s situation arises in 1909 amid the context of the first wave of feminism approaching its peak and shortly after the first automobile and other radical inventions, such as the telephone, revolutionized daily life for Americans. Timid housewife Tolly’s aloof and controlling husband Warren has been staying out later and later, and Tolly schemes to regain his interest and affections by changing her form — at first with tilting teacups beneath her blouse, then cigar box corners, then by hanging oatmeal-filled socks around her neck by a string.
Though her husband mistakes these strange protrusions for a malady, Tolly is emboldened by the response she receives from others, gaining the confidence and self esteem to confront her husband. Meanwhile, Tolly’s brother Nelson and his buddy Rudy attempt to steal her most sophisticated falsies “invention” — the “gay deceivers” — when their marketing class project doesn’t cut muster; and at its climax, the play reveals that nothing is as it’s perceived to be in the end.
It’s classic fodder for a farce; however, Act I takes too long to develop the multiple story lines with not enough humor, and despite some sharp and clever performances, two of the four actors drag down the storytelling by falling short of mastering their lines and energy.
However, Sam Slottow is a captivating Tolly and plays wonderfully with Benjamin Hooper as Warren, the husband. The narrative relies completely on the change each of these characters undergoes, and both Slottow and Hooper show this elegantly. They’re also masters of comedic timing; they make bold, committed choices in terms of physical comedy, which makes their characters. Likewise, Samuel Myers as Nelson and Nick Rogers as Rudy are delightfully silly and boyish best friends, both giving nuanced yet all-out performances, making even the tired trope of straight dudes in drag worth laughing at.
These wonderful performances are also, no doubt, thanks to wise directing from Sarah E. MacLean, who selected a largely talented cast and developed blocking that makes good use of the shotgun stage in the basement of the Downtown Kalamazoo’s First Congregational Church — a space in which she recently directed “The Days Are Shorter” for Queer Theatre Kalamazoo.
All the technical elements are impressive as well, particularly for a low-budget production with a run that’s open to the public on a donation basis. Most notably, the costumes by Renae C. Feldpausch as well as the beautifully dressed set, including a phonograph and hand-crank wall-mounted telephone effectively highlight the early 20th Century.
It’s really quite a feat that a city of Kalamazoo’s size has the talent and the interest to support another small theater company dedicated to doing new works on a shoestring, but that kind of dedication to the arts is a defining characteristic of this town. And based on the audience size and responsiveness opening night to Kalamazoo Craft Theater Project’s premiere production, there are patrons already eagerly anticipating the next new work.
May 18-May 26