Gay Life, Comic and Tragic, Seen Up Close at Uptown Players' Annual Pride Fest

Unicorn, gryphon, bisexual man: Pick the one that's real. The usual answer is "none of the above," with the bisexual male lumped in alongside the Yeti, Easter Bunny and plus-sized supermodel as imaginary creatures.

Yet Dallas playwright and director Bruce R. Coleman insists in his new comedy Mythical Beastie that a 30-year-old man can be equally in love with and sexually attracted to both his gay male roomie and his female spinning teacher. Coleman's two-act play is making its debut at Uptown Players' fourth annual Pride Arts Festival, performed in the small Frank's Place studio theater above the main Kalita Humphreys space. Of the four shows reviewed on opening weekend, this was the standout, full of witty repartee and quick shifts in mood handled by actors Blake Blair, Nikki McDonald and Gregg Gerardi.

Blair plays Greg, who enters the first act late, after his new squeeze Wendy (McDonald) has arrived at his apartment for a dinner date, only to find Greg's longtime roommate Mark (Girardi) home alone. Wendy and Mark do an awkward get-acquainted tango, which serves as exposition about who they are and how they know absent Greg. "I will get dinner started," says Mark, "because, you know, I'm gay."

When Greg finally stumbles in drunk, he haltingly reveals that he's in love with Wendy and Mark and wants each of them to be OK with that. Which, of course, they're not. Wendy, though attracted to Greg, objects to being cast as a mere sex object. "This vagina has a name," she says. "I call her Ariel."

Mark's confused and angry, having watched Greg sow his wild oats in the lady-parts of "thousands of women" since his college days.

And that's just the first act. In the second half of Mythical Beastie, home truths get harsher and the comedy grows darker. It's not clear why Wendy would stick around — she keeps putting her coat and purse on and then taking them off again — when she says that the guys "have got more Rebecca-revelation-type bullshit to get through."

That's Rebecca as in the DuMaurier novel, as in the Hitchcock film from 1940. Would a 20-something health club spin class instructor make that sort of quip-smart cinematic reference? Even one with, as Coleman writes her, a philosophy degree from SMU? (He has her calling SMU an "Ivy League school," which is either intentional satire or a terrible mistake.) Probably not, but then Wendy speaks more in the rhythms of an old-movie-loving middle-aged gay playwright than a shiny-haired young gym bunny.

Mythical Beastie isn't perfect, but it is full of funny lines and clever local references to things like "McKinney Avenue douchebaggery." "If things turn ugly, the safe word is 'Hockaday,'" says Wendy. Coleman also takes a shot at a former Dallas Cowboy and his maybe-gay relationship with a personal assistant: "He's so far in the closet, he can find next year's Christmas presents." That made even the gay men in the audience groan.

Coleman, who also directed his play, benefits from the casting of Blair, a strapping blond with piercing blue eyes, and McDonald, a curvy redhead with snappy sitcom-style timing. Not seen nearly enough on local stages, Blair can carry off the drunk stuff, the gooey romantic gestures and a serious, quiet final speech — his character's confession to the roommate that he's repressed his gay side for too long — without tipping too far into melodrama. Blair also has cute chemistry with McDonald; better than he has with the pouty Girardi.

This is strong, multi-layered comedy with likable characters. That's nearly as mythical a beast as the Yeti. (Mythical Beastie runs again at 2 p.m., Saturday, September 20.)

The Falling Man by Will Scheffer is the other show to catch at the Pride Fest (up next at 8 p.m., Thursday, September 18). Barely a half-hour long, it consists of three brief monologues delivered by Dallas actors Darius Anthony Robinson, Kevin Moore and Coy Covington. Robinson gives lovely shades of sadness to his performance as a drag queen, removing her "veneer" and reverting back to her real, more boring life in the straight world. Moore plays Jeffrey Dahmer, offering cooking tips from the afterlife. Covington's in the gem, a subdued flashback from a hospital room as his character recalls his coming out moment at a ballroom dance competition decades ago. Nice to see Covington, who often performs at Uptown in glam-drag, stripped of glitter and gloss to do some seriously good acting.

Don't bother with Commencing, a banal two-hander by Jane Shepherd that has a lesbian (Angela Allen) giving lesbian history lessons to a drunk bimbo (Susan Riley). Hard to pick which character to hate more: the drunk one with herpes or the sanctimonious one with HIV.

Michael Perlman's one-act From White Plains has its four characters (Jeff Burleson, David Price, Austin Tindle, Angel Velasco) acting out a clichéd tale of a high school bully (Burleson) thrust into the public eye as an adult when a gay writer (Tindle) wins an Oscar for writing a film about the bully's torment of a gay teen. In a turnabout, the gay writer bullies the other guy into going on a TV talk show for a showdown. The dialogue is cringingly bad and the characters speak not to each other but into cell phones and laptop screens. If theater is a reflection of contemporary culture, we're doomed to more of this in bad plays like this one.

Uptown's Pride Fest closes on Saturday with a performance by gay "Savage Love" columnist and "It gets better" campaigner Dan Savage, at 8 p.m. on the main stage at Kalita Humphreys Theater.

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Elaine Liner
Contact: Elaine Liner