Out Front Stages a Moving Comedy
This month’s offering at Out Front on Main was Paul Rudnick’s resilient comedy Jeffrey. Originally produced in 1995, the play follows the travails of a gay waiter in New York who has been frightened into celibacy by the AIDS crisis. I must admit that the show seemed more socially relevant when I first saw it in the late 1990s, though that is likely because we as a society have allowed the concern over the HIV/AIDS to drift into the background of our social consciousness to mingle with other often-faceless donation recipients such as cancer and diabetes research. This production was absolutely delightful, well-acted, and well-directed by Out Front Vice-President Buddy Jones.
Out Front Executive Director George Manus took to the stage in the title role of Jeffrey, a quirky, thirty-something actor-or-waiter who finds the thought of sex terrifying amidst the growing concern of the AIDS epidemic. More than sex, though, it is the intimacy of a relationship that scares Jeffrey most, as he fears finding someone to love and then being forced to watch him die. This subtle distinction was effortless and moving in Manus’s performance; his hesitation and loneliness were palpable throughout the show.
Challenging Jeffrey’s fearful approach to life were his best friends Sterling, irrepressibly portrayed by Richard Browder, and Darius, rendered in pitch-perfect fashion by Out Front veteran Andy Woloszyn. Browder’s over-the-top, fearless portrayal was hilarious and engaging; his adventurous spirit and irrepressible humor provided the perfect foil for Jeffrey’s timid meanderings through society. Woloszyn delivered his finest, fiercest performance to date as Sterling’s CATS chorus member companion. The relationship crafted by Browder and Wolosyzn was adorable, and it permeated the theatre with a deep affection that made the denouement of the play—Jeffrey’s return to the world of love when confronted by Darius’s death from AIDS—ever more moving.
Tempting Jeffrey to return to the world of romance was bartender Steve, delightfully brought to life by Ryan Vogel. The chemistry between Vogel and Manus was perhaps a bit timid at first, but it grew demonstrably as the show progressed. Vogel’s performance was fantastic; his honesty with Jeffrey (Steve is HIV-positive) was refreshing and effective.
Rounding out the cast were the ensemble performers Anderson Dodd, Jessica Theiss, Seth Limbaugh and Zach Parker (plus a hilarious, Hitchcockian appearance by director Jones as the world’s most inappropriate Catholic priest). The ensemble was remarkable as each of the actors tackled multiple roles to fill the world around Jeffrey and his fears. I’m not sure which was more memorable—the mutual masturbation club or the attempt by Jeffrey’s parents to engage him in phone sex. In either case, the results were side-splitting.
Jeffrey provided a great end to the summer offerings at Out Front on Main. Jones’s capable direction brought the late-20th Century to life in a nostalgic way that served to remind the audience of the timelessness of both love and fear.
More Murder at the Center for the Arts
It was a play about a guy who makes a New Year’s resolution to off his ball-and-chain by running the gamut of miscreancies, only to discover in the end that he’s really dizzy with the dame. From beginning to end this cast of swell actors had the audience on the edge of their seats wondering if he would finally succeed. David Cummings was delightful as Matthew Perry the doggy daddy whose every attempt at giving his hot patootie wife, played by Cyndie Verbeten, the grand kiss off was a trip for biscuits.
The audience enjoyed the playful and sometimes scathing banter between the Perrys, and even I got a bit dizzy with the many different shell games. Ted Verbeten as the family butler, Buttram, was sufficiently pompous and endearing and you couldn’t help but wonder if the butler really did do it. Rachael Parker and Lance Chandler were complete geniuses at playing the ditzy daughter and future son-in-law of the “happy” couple. But I must say that the creme-de-la-creme was Detective Plotnick, played by Chris McLaurin. From the moment of his booming entrance throughout the tangled web of ’40s jargon until his final bow, Mr. McLaurin showed that he can act as well as he can direct. Yet all in all, after a wonderful dinner at B McNeel’s, this dinner theater venture proved that A Little Murder Never Hurt Anybody.
The month of August was a light one for the Murfreesboro theater community. As the various companies around town finalize or prepare for their upcoming seasons, only these two venues offered dramatic presentations. I find myself ready for September and the beginning of Murfreesboro Little Theatre’s 49th season, which opens with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, running Sept. 9-18. Also upcoming are: Anything Goes at the Center for the Arts, running Sept. 9-25; Going Back to Where I’ve Never Been, playing for a limited, one-weekend engagement at Out Front on Main from Sept. 1-4; and, the musical revue L.O.V.E. from Consider This at the Swan Performing Arts Center, which runs Sept. 16-24.