Joe Hamid and Robbie Dwight play an updated and dirtier Abbott and Costello in Marty Shea's one-act play, "Who's On Dick?" Shea's play is one of eight Michigan playwrights chosen for this year's Gay Play Series at The Ringwald Theatre. Photo: Brandy Joe Plambeck

A Tasty Theatrical Buffet At The Ringwald

By John Quinn

Make no mistake: Detroit is not the cultural backwater that stereotypes would make it. Five years into its successful, annual Gay Play Series, The Ringwald Theatre found eight one-acts from local playwrights to fill the bill.

"Vignettes" might be a better description than "one-acts." The evening consists of four pieces in 40 minutes, a 10-minute intermission and another four in another 40 minutes. It's remarkable how complete and satisfying the shows are, given an average of 10 minutes running time apiece. There's no sense that anything's missing.

"At the Food Court" by Kim Carney is a little tale of gossip gone wrong. Three peons from Old Navy (Bailey Boudreau, Meghan Jolliffe and Sara Kline) are eating lunch in the mall. Each knows a secret that will affect the lives of one of the others. Each is eager to share the dirt with anyone but the unsuspecting "victim." This is a cynical, catty and funny illustration of "Pride goeth before a fall," and director Julie Moriarty makes even sitting around a Formica-topped table interesting.

Josh Campos directs his own work, "The Shelter," a satirical take on social paranoia. The secure suburban lifestyle characteristic of mid-century America is about to fall to an invasion. The twist is that this invasion is not lead by a red banner charged with the hammer and sickle, but by a rainbow flag. Robbie (Jeffery Smyk) and Rhonda (Jake Russell) have the only underground shelter in the neighborhood. To what lengths will Brian Munzenburger, Emily Englehart, RJ Cach and Andi Maziarz go to seize their only protection from depravity? "The Shelter" is played for broad comedy, but that can't hide its caustic core: a bitter condemnation of intolerance.

In "Let Go, Larry" by Jeff Mansk, Lauren Bickers recreates a chance meeting between exes years after Rob (Michael Babbish) left to "find space." Larry (Michael Hofer), though, is not willing to let go - literally. Mansk's script is exceptionally witty for such a broad comedy. His characters are locked in a smothering embrace for most of the scene, which Bickers enlivens with a struggle between predator and prey. Her actors bring fine comic timing to this very physical comedy.

"Mom is so GLAAD" is Margaret Edwartowski's rendering of a mother-daughter relationship. It would appear that Mom (Linda Ramsay) has dragged Marty (Dani Cochrane) to Costco in order to go "shopping" for a new girlfriend for her daughter. Carole is accepting of Marty's lifestyle, but all she knows about lesbians is what she's picked up from Wikipedia and Playboy. But what Edwartowski sets up as your typical meddling mother versus independent daughter takes a sweet turn as Carole's motivation is revealed. Dave Davies directs a pair of winning actors who manage to pilot an empty shopping cart to artistic advantage.

"Make Room for Stu" by Bitch and Fag (Tara Rase & Mark Sobolewski) finds flamboyant Marke (Brian Buckner) threatened by the loss of his BFF, Tara (Jen Bloomer), as she plans to marry Stu (Jeff Smyk). The writing is sharp; the cast is quick with the quip, and director Gary Lehman brightens up what is essentially a couch-bound dialogue.

"The Choice," by Dave Davies veers into the absurd - or is it the metaphysical? On a typical Sunday morning, Kyle Galston (Jason DeSousa) comes out to his father, Larry (Jeff Mansk). Larry's not as open as his wife Mary (Nuverre Naami) has been, and berates his son for the "choice" he's made. Larry's world is turned upside down by an occurrence that to relate here would be a real spoiler. Larry learns the real meaning of choice. Considering that this whole piece is based on that one word, it's surprising how much can is learned here. Dyan Bailey has found a fair amount of subtext in the script and deftly displays it in her direction.

Raunchy and weird describe Marty Shea's "Who's on Dick?" directed by Joe Plambeck. This is a knock-off of vaudevillians Abbott and Costello comedy skit, "Who's on First?" - but with a tres gay twist. Costello (Robbie Dwight) is merely trying to learn the identities of the other participants in Abbott's (Joe Hamid) upcoming orgy. Dwight's take on Costello's growing frustration when thrown a series of screen names that mimic the classic baseball skit is priceless. This piece depends on its timing, and its timing is perfect.

"Monster" by Mike McGettigan rounds out the evening. In a satirical turn, much like in "The Shelter," another menace stands in for homosexuality. Nick Bitanti plays a Frankenstein's Monster assembly of random body parts, rescued from a threatening mob by Greg (Pete Prouty). The Monster has a crush on his hero. Greg gradually learns he can return the affection and that the Monster is no monster after all.

Or is he? The conclusion makes sense only in the context of the darkest of dark comedy. We salute director Clint Lohman for successfully pulling this one off.

And there you have it. Like a buffet, the 2014 Gay Play Series allows Metro Detroit theater patrons to sample choice bits from favorite local artists, playwrights directors and actors alike. For the theater non-patron, it's a chance to see what you've been missing.

The remaining 2014 Gay Play Series schedule is as follows:

Monday, June 23, 8 p.m.: Slipstream Theatre Initiative: Shrew ($10)

Friday, June 27, 8 p.m.: Vince Kelley in Concert: Pop Tart! ($10)

Saturday, June 28, 8 p.m.: 2014 Original One Act Plays ($10)

Sunday, June 29, 3 p.m.: 2014 Original One Act Plays ($10)

Monday, June 30, 8 p.m.: Closing Ceremonies; Lip Sync for Your Life ($10)

REVIEW:

'2014 Gay Play Series'

The Ringwald Theatre, 22742 Woodward Ave., Ferndale. Through June 30. 1 hour, 35 minutes. 248-545-5545. http://www.theringwald.com

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