Fruit Fly at Celebration Theatre

It’s like a weird date with new parents – you know what I mean: an invitation to their home for drinks and conversation. Before you know it, you’re strapped to the living room couch as they break out the home movies and endless baby pictures.

When Leslie Jordan does it, it’s pure enjoyment and this time around it is you who is begging him to pull out even more photos.

Jordan’s new one-man show, Fruit Fly delights in the ups and downs of growing up a southern gay man with an understanding mother, though you don’t have to be from the South to identify with Jordan. Anecdotal in nature, “Fruit Fly” wastes no time getting to the core of the piece. Jordan, the diminutive actor best known for his role as Beverly Leslie, the sexually ambiguous (really??) nemesis to Megan Mullally’s Karen Walker on “Will and Grace” and as the Tammy Wynette-obsessed Brother Boy in “Sordid Lives,” takes command of the stage and keeps his audience in rapt attention for the duration of the show, never once letting up on the hilarious asides and delicious personal tidbits about life with mother!

A gracious host in his own element (the set a cozy southern home designed by Jimmy Cuomo), Jordan welcomes us with open arms, a sassy tongue, and ready to dispense gossip, mostly about himself, really.

He touches upon his sheltered upbringing in a garden designed for his feminine affinity for dolls, dressing up, and red cowboy boots. He talks about his father and you can tell he admired and loved him deeply, despite the fact that he was ashamed of his son being a “sissy.”

It’s with his mother, Peggy Ann, that he is most able to be himself, but it’s not all mint juleps and jonquils on the veranda on a summer night in the Jordan household. Being a teenager in the early 70s was enough to cause a giant rift in his relationship with his beloved mom. It’s not as though he could greet gentlemen callers on his porch, no, he had to find them at the local cruising parks. And yet, despite his behavior (and some of mom’s own eccentricities), this ode to his mother never becomes a platform for bashing her.

Under director David Galligan’s guidance, “Fruit Fly” feels like stand-up comedy. But it’s more than that. The comedy vibe brings in the audience, but it’s Jordan’s sensibility that moves us beyond that. Some of his observations about being gay and losing a parent go right to the heart and manage to pull out a few tears here and there, but never at the expense of cheap sentimentality. When you’re not choking back tears, they flow from sheer laughter.

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Bash’d A Gay Rap Opera at Celebration Theatre

An all-rap opera would seem a bit of an odd choice for musical theatre – even a gay one. But when you consider that any number of rap incarnations date back a few centuries and that it draws closer to its political roots, then it shouldn’t come as a surprise that theatre and rapping would eventually cross paths to tell this story.

Although BASH’d isn’t a new concept, it is an ideal choice for this call to arms to our gay community to stand up and take action. The action, of course, is that of gay marriage – no less a hot button issue right now, both in the U.S. and in Canada, where this piece originated.

Written by Chris Craddock and Nathan Cuckrow, the piece is loosely based on the escalation of hate crimes in Alberta, Canada during the gay marriage debate of 2005. You could say that it borrows from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet with a Romeo-on-Romeo twist.

This is a wonderful and joyous production from Celebration theatre, although it is not for those who still think theatre is a passive sporting event, and it is definitely not for those who proclaim theater’s demise whenever a younger generation finds a new voice and a new way to tell familiar stories.

Even before the show begins, DJ Jedi spins his beats to an enthusiastic audience. By the time the show starts, the crowd is in a festive mood. Feminem (Sean Bradford) and T-Bag (Chris Ferro) take the stage, Greek chorus-style, to introduce us to Jack and Dillon (played by the same actors respectively.) These characters are, indeed star cross’d lovers as they meet at a club, fall in love, eventually get married, and then face the realities of hate crimes.

Along the way, the play offers up plenty of laughs, in particular, the extremely funny bit that takes place at the clubs where T-Bag and Femimen nail (no pun intended) every gay stereotype they run into. Twink to hairy bear, no stereotype is left unscathed. Minimal props Michael O’Hara) and costumes (Naila Aladdin Sanders) is all that is needed to adorn this world.

BASH’d is well executed from start to finish. The rap is in your face and loud (as it should be) as it takes us on a humorous journey, but with some serious turns in just the right direction. Neither pandering or playing for melodrama, Bradford and Ferro take us on an honest emotional journey. The music (by Aaron Macri) is evocative of one such white rapper with those tight raps and Ferro is eerily reminiscent of Eminem.

Politically, this rap opera is just as aggressive in message as are those prominent rappers from whom they borrow. As African-America rappers have reclaimed the N-word for themselves, so too have we been commanded to take “faggot” and make it our own. It’s an extreme objective to be sure, but not one so far-fetched considering the extent to which our own civil rights have been violated.

Director/choreographer Ameenah Kaplan knows his way around the Celebration stage and employs Evan Bartoletti’s set, consisting of boxes that double as an urban landscape, to firmly plant us into this world of gay love and hetero hate. Bradford and Ferro switch seamlessly into multiple characters with little effort and inventive choreography. It goes to show that having a young and energetic cast need not be peppered with gratuitous nudity to draw in a West Hollywood crowd… At least, not anymore.

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On a bittersweet note this is Matthew A. Shepperd’s last show before stepping down as Artistic Director of Celebration. His challenge — distancing his company from the success of Naked Boys Singing!, which made Celebration West Hollywood’s go to theatre for nudie-boy plays — ends on a high note.

He set out to take this theatre in a new direction. This gutsy production is a fine example of his taking the risk of failure by challenging a proven formula, and triumphing.

Performances through July 23 at Celebration Theater, 7051 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood. For tickets, go to http://www.celebrationtheatre.com/onstage.html.

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