Saturday , June 15 2024
Curtis Gillen, Rebecca Robertson in 'Midnight Coleslaw's Tales from Beyond the Closet!!!' Photo by Richard Termine
Curtis Gillen, Rebecca Robertson (photo credit: Richard Termine)

Theater Review (NYC): ‘Midnight Coleslaw’s Tales from Beyond the Closet!!!’

The triply-exclamatory title of Midnight Coleslaw’s Tales from Beyond the Closet!!! and the tagline “An evening of boner-chilling terror” tell you all you need to know about what this entertainment from The Tank and playwright Joey Merlo aims for. Drag-show song-and-dance hijinks from Charlene Incarnate and her skull sidekick frame three (really two-and-a-half) one-act plays that explore aspects of queer culture and perspective through humor and the macabre.

Curtis Gillen, Rebecca Robertson in 'Midnight Coleslaw's Tales from Beyond the Closet!!!' Photo by Richard Termine
John William Watkins, Charlene Incarnate, Priscilla Flores (photo credit: Richard Termine)

The show is a festival of identity-positivity and good feeling. But as a piece of theater it’s only a partial success. Case in point: The introductory framing sequence explodes in campy fun that dwindles amid a slow pace and lack of focus.

The Chair in the Closet

The one-act that follows is the best segment, sizzling with over-the-top creepiness. Chair skewers the vapidity of a comically stereotypical heteronormative couple. Yet it also reveals the hearts and souls of both the man and the woman. A sharp script, great acting, and Nick Browne’s quicksilver direction work seamlessly together.

Rebecca Robertson is especially impressive, manifesting her Barbie-doll character’s deep interior life despite – or rather, partly through – screechy hyperactivity. Curtis Gillen makes her mate’s singer-songwriter aspirations absurd yet sincere. The animated piece of furniture that both binds them and pulls them apart is the gooey, dark center.

Daddy’s Girl

In Daddy’s Girl a parent returns from the dead to throw a same-sex relationship into chaos. We see how fragile a settled, loving marriage can be when faced with outmoded prejudice. The play warmly depicts the relationship between Patty (a nuanced and sympathetic Jan Leslie Harding) and Mel (a superb Priscilla Flores). But the action loses focus in the middle.

The play sharpens up when Mel bumps Patty’s dead father aside to assert her rightful place in Patty’s life, drawing cheers. The ghost’s return had something to do with Patty’s mother’s dementia, but that’s just a setup. The piece’s power is in its depiction of Patty’s divided loyalties, and in the strength of Mel’s character. Its weakness is in some of the interplay between Patty and her dead father, taking too long to get to the shocker bit of physicality.

You Kids Listen Up: In My Day…

The third panel of the triptych is an armchair monologue by an aging queen reminiscing about the decadent, life-affirming parties of his youth. David Greenspan brings his trademark knowing, teasing delivery to the role. But the script doesn’t offer enough to grab hold of, even for an actor of his outsized abilities. When the rest of the cast bursts in for a surprise birthday celebration, I was relieved the monologue was over – it seemed to be spiraling into randomness.

David Greenspan in 'Midnight Coleslaw's Tales from Beyond the Closet!!!' Photo by Richard Termine
David Greenspan (photo credit: Richard Termine)

Incarnate’s naughty charisma enlivens the song and dance numbers in the framing scenes with help from minions and puppets. A puppetry sequence involving a reassembled skeleton is a great crowd-pleaser. Throughout the evening, the spectators were very much with the production, often bubbling with enthusiasm. But at times, and not always the intended ones, they were quieter than a tub of coleslaw in the fridge at midnight.

Midnight Coleslaw’s Tales from Beyond the Closet!!! runs through June 23 at The Tank. Get tickets and info online.

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Music, where he covers classical music (old and new) and other genres, and Culture, where he reviews NYC theater. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at http://www.orenhope.com/ you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at http://parkodyssey.blogspot.com/ where he is on a mission to visit every park in New York City. He has also been a part-time working musician, including as lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado.

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