Surprisingly, Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Dance Party is a drama. Some might be compelled to call it a dramedy, but works that fall under that category display an equal balance in light and heavy tone. Dance Party is anything but balanced.
During a school Christmas pageant in Menard County, Illinois (a former residence of President Lincoln), the children, playing former presidents, shock the audience with lines that insinuate Honest Abe was homosexual. The teacher responsible for the controversy, Harmony Green, is swiftly fired and brought up on criminal charges for distributing harmful materials to minors. When two Illinois republicans competing for gubernatorial status fill the roles of defense and prosecution, the case becomes “the trial of the century.”
After these events unfold, the cast breaks the fourth wall and informs the audience that we are in control of the evening’s proceedings. We are to witness the story three times from the perspectives of the prosecutor, the defense attorney, and the New York Times reporter who comes to town. However, the audience gets to choose in which order we see them. The gimmick is interesting in the sense that when certain events happen in one act, the causes are further explained in other acts due to a difference in perspective and the play becomes a bit of an entertaining puzzle. Overall, it feels like a tool to complicate an uncomplicated story.
Further convoluting Dance Party is that it’s a bipolar play, much of which stems from its title. Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Dance Party infers a flashy, flamboyant, comical romp through the designated narrative. Yes, there are definitely moments like that in Dance Party. But instead of holding steady to that tone, there are also scenes where characters throw themselves at each other, screaming and gritting their teeth in vengeful agony about lost friends during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. These two tones do not match up and make for a confusing theater experience. Read more
Usually when I can’t follow the plotline of a show, that doesn’t bode well for how I feel about the production as a whole. Bizarrely enough, this is not the case with The 39 Steps. I was incredibly engaged the entire show, and I think I smiled the entire way through. I also didn’t know what the heck was going on. I hope that’s not an insult to writer John Buchan; it shouldn’t be. What he lacks in story clarity, he and director Maria Aitken make up for in stage directions and concept.
The 39 Steps is based on the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film of the same title and follows Richard Hannay (Sean Mahon), a detective, a college professor, a mystery writer—I don’t know!—on a mad chase. The police are after him for the death of a strange woman, Annabella Schmidt, who was murdered in his home. Earlier in the night, the mysterious Annabella (who fired a gun in a theater and followed Richard home) yammered on to Richard about some kind of something, her search for this thing called “the 39 steps.” I don’t really know what she was talking about, but it sounded serious. Anyway, she ends up with a knife in her back and a freaked Richard takes off into the night, and somewhere along the way decides to continue Annabella’s search for the 39 steps.
But wait; this all sounds way too serious. The 39 Steps is a comical mystery (comystery?) similar to the style of Monty Python. The show is incredibly inventive; a cast of only four actors portrays 150 characters, using tricks such as shadows, quick costume changes, and abstract scenery. What’s delightful about this show is that it reaches out to an audience that knows how to use its imagination. Read more