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Homo for the Holidays

Kevin Howard, Paul J. Williams and Jim Kuenzer come out...as Trekkies in a sketch comedy with their troupe, Queertown.

"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.

The group also includes Chad Cline, Angie Epley and Second Thought Theatre's Allison Tolman (absent until her run in Kitchen Dog's Debbie Does Dallas is up).

They're here. They're Queertown. Get used to them.


Send the younger adults to catch some edgy comedy over the hols, but if the oldsters in the fam need a quieter night out, consider Morning's at Seven at Richardson Theatre Centre . The gentle comedy by Paul Osborn makes for a graceful and nostalgic evening and asks a relevant question for this time of year: Surrounded by family, is it possible to feel terribly lonely?

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."

Morning's at Seven, a heartwarming play about many things, is wise to family ties, compromises and unfulfilled expectations--in life, in love, in everything that matters. The nine characters find themselves at a peculiar crossroads. The sisters and their husbands seem suddenly surprised at having gotten old. Two of the marriages are on the verge of breaking up. Homer, simp son that he is, needs a sharp smack upside the head before he realizes he's about to lose Myrtle and any chance of happy married life away from his clingy mom and rueful dad.

Director Ouida White has coaxed some quiet, exquisitely natural acting out of her cast of veterans. Beautiful Louanne Stephens is especially sweet as the no-nonsense Cora. As she cooks up a scheme to get Thor away from Arie, she switches into new gears. And when it seems that she's destined to share her husband forever, her grief is palpable.

Halim Jabbour so often plays handsome villains onstage that it's a pleasure to see him go against type as a shy mama's boy. Such a strong actor, this guy, and getting better all the time.

Haven't seen Jerry Crow or Don Berger in plays before (or they just didn't register, perhaps), but they're both wonderful as the beleaguered husbands, Thor and Carl. Oldest sister Esther's control-freak husband David is played by Mark Stoddard, who's decades younger than Carolyn Wickwire but makes you believe he's the right age to be her hubby just in his stiff silhouette (with an assist from the shadowy lighting).

Like Mayberry, the people and settings in Morning's at Seven come easily to life, believably and wholly. It's an old-fashioned three-act play set in a time when sleeping past sunup was seen as a character flaw, and women never talked to a man while wearing an apron. Realistic details and fine performances make the RTC production worth seeing. The intimate acting space will make you feel right at home in the sisters' backyards. When they all head over to Ida's for Sunday lunch, you can almost smell the apple pie.


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