Just as revenge is best served cold, issues of personal identity are best handled lightheartedly and with a touch of kindness. So it is with upcoming playwright Jordan Harrison’s work Act A Lady at the Hub Theater in Fairfax. A period piece about gender and sexuality, it is a fun romp that explores and explodes ideas of who we are and how we see ourselves. Think Fargo for midwestern dialogue and sensibilities, but set back in the prohibition 1920s.
Delivered with such fun and warmth, it is memorable.
The setup: a local Elks club decides to go a little outside their comfort zone putting on their annual fund raiser, spurred on by their Hollywood director Zina, the hard-charging britches-wearing Nora Achrati.
Suspending belief a bit, the group decides to put on a revolutionary french farce, with the men playing female characters, replete with bouffants, linen finery, and hirsute décolletage. (Rarely are those last two words seen together…) Costumes literally fill the stage in this visual extravaganza, thanks to the work of Maria Vetsch. The play within a play unfolds and provides hilarity in spades.
How to act a lady? Does the dress make the man? The three men take to their roles earnestly as they work on their female selves. We see Miles (Matthew Paul), a family man who has convinced his troubled, god-fearing wife (a forthright accordion-playing Toni Rai Salmi) of their plan. Then we watch their marital give and take on it. His haughty Duchess proves over the top and quite demonic as she wails across the stage, to the horror of his wife. Then there is True (David Zimmerman), the single ladies man who feels quite comfortable as the countess, presenting a wonderfully presumptuous falsetto and darting eyes. But it is Casper, (Cyle Durkee) the sensitive gender curious man who most effortlessly becomes his role as the ingénue of the farce, drawing praise from the director, who quickly recognizes his natural inner swish. With dreamy eyes and an effortless air, he makes little eye contact and floats thru scenes, an innocent finally exploring his sensibilities. In a scene where he blissfully puts his head on True’s shoulder during a break in the action, he finally experiences his own sensibilities as his face shines in happiness.
Filling out the lineup is Lorna (Jenna Sokolowski), a makeup artist in town who is determined to make the men look like women. Her romantic interplay with True provides another tug of war in the gender identity continuum. Her scene as she is coached by Zina to use her female wiles to ensure that the Sheriff doesn’t close down the show is priceless.
One brilliant notion is staging the women juxtaposed against the garishly dressed men as the men themselves, donned in male garb, pondering life in a casual conversation. Effectively explodes the notion of gender and our preconceived attitudes. Its as if the men came out of their bodies and walked alongside themselves.
This highlighted the nimble talent onstage, directed by Matthew R. Wilson. Once past the fanciful elizabethan scenes of sputtering foofery, uproarious yet nonsensical, we are treated to a nuanced delivery of the exploration of identity. And if it takes art to draw it out, then all the better. Delivered with such fun and warmth, it is memorable.
As Zina says to Casper, post-discovery, spurring him to think about leaving his little town “I heard there’s a whole lot of world out there.” The transformative power of drama.
Running Time:1 hour and 35 minutes with an intermission.
Act A Lady is presented at The Hub Theatre, 9431 Silver King Court Fairfax, VA 22031 from July 12 – August 4th. For tickets or for other performances in the 2013 season, call 1.800.494.8497 or here.