By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
"There is no amendment against same-sex comedy," warns comic actor Paul J. Williams in his introduction to another performance by Queertown, the seven-member comedy troupe that commands the stage at the West End Comedy Theatre. They're gay, all right, this bunch of giddies. It's just that not all of them are homosexual. No matter. It's their comedy that's gay-friendly, gay-centric.
And swear to Martha (Stewart, Raye, your choice), they are screamingly funny. This is good, because what we don't need is any more bad sketch comedy 'round heah. Heck, you can't swing a cat south of the High Five without hitting some sad little "improv group." You know the types. Bad sweaters. Dirty jeans. They jump manically around the stage, begging the two-drink-minimum audience to toss out ideas so they can work them into dodgy bits stunning in their lack of originality and their dependence on allusions to body parts and Michael Jackson for cheap laughs.
Queertown does none of that. These kids put on a polished, fast-moving, well-rehearsed 90 minutes of solid entertainment. Like Second City, the Groundlings or, for ardent BBC America watchers, the League of Gentlemen or Little Britain, they're smart-funny, from the opening monologue by Williams ("I have a washboard stomach...I'm just doing a load of towels right now") to the stinging finale, "Let Me Be a Line in Your Rainbow." They create characters, sing sharply written songs and come up with clever running bits that pop up throughout the show.
Many of their sketches take dead aim at gay stereotypes like Brenda, the growly dyke played by Kristen McCollum (who also writes much of the material for the show). Confronted by other members of her Christian "gay in recovery" group, Brenda admits she wants to stop being gay "so I can get a job at Cracker Barrel." That's efficient comedy for you, skewering two homo-hating enterprises at once.
McCollum comes back later to sing the parody "I Think I Love Lucy Liu" (to the tune of the Partridge Family's "I Think I Love You"). Maybe it's an Asian thing, she sings, "but I feel nothing for Lisa Ling."
Beanpole Kevin Howard, intro'd as "the mayor of Queertown," joins Williams in a scene as a couple hosting straight neighbors for dinner. Howard communicates in a flamboyant Tourette's-with-showtunes manner, answering every question with another big Broadway number. It's so annoying that the straight guy (Todd Upchurch) starts trying to come up with words that will stump him.
Some sketches are so short they're basically set-up and punch line in just a few seconds. "Where do babies come from?" queries a kid with queer daddies. Answers one of the guys after a brief pause: "Romania."
There is only enough improvisation performed in the show to get the audience briefly involved. On the night reviewed, Paul J. Williams and Jim Kuenzer (who plays smooth guitar and co-writes sketches with McCollum) paired up for an impromptu dedication to a patron who identified himself as "Phillip the engineer," which sort of rhymes with queer and is easier to rhyme than "Phillip." Williams and Kuenzer didn't skip a beat as they made up a bossa nova serenade on the spot.
What's nicest about Queertown is that they're nice. They look as clean-scrubbed as Mouseketeers, and though their comedy might be a tad mean, it's never scuzzy--give it about a PG-13 rating--just thoroughly fresh and intelligent. Skewering public figures and gay pop culture ("Anderson Cooper--one for our side!"), they appear to be having a gay old time every second that they're onstage.
They're here. They're Queertown. Get used to them.
Of course it is. And that's precisely what's bugging certain members of the tight-knit clan dominated by elderly sisters Cora (Louanne Stephens), Arie (Lauren Embrey), Ida (Angela Wilson) and Esther (Carolyn Wickwire). Three of the siblings have been married forever and, in a small town that looks like a Rockwell painting (as depicted by Regan Adair's sprawling scenic design), they live only a hoot and a holler from each other's back doors. Too close for comfort, it turns out.
Arie, described as "the maiden aunt," is the perpetual third wheel. She has lived with older sister Cora and her husband Thor (Jerry Crow) for more than 40 years, leading Ida and Esther to whisper and giggle about secret longings between Thor and Arie. Cora ignores the gossip but yearns to get Arie out of the house so she finally can have Thor all to herself.
The family is thrown into a tizzy with the arrival of Myrtle (Mary-Margaret Pyeatt), the perky and patient fiancée of Homer (Halim Jabbour), Ida's son. He's such a nebbish that he's remained "engaged" for 12 years because he's afraid to move out of his boyhood home. Ida's husband Carl (Don Berger) chooses Myrtle's visit as the day for one of his "Where am I?" spells. Seems he can't stop reliving the moment in his life he chose not to become a dentist. "I have to go back to the fork," he moans, meaning "in the road."