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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Mitzi Newhouse Theatre, Lincoln Center

By Bill Stevenson

  Peter Bartlett/PH:T. Charles Erickson

The current theater offerings at Lincoln Center range from the sublime revival of South Pacific to this ridiculous new collection of one-acts by Paul Rudnick . Although The New Century boasts witty one-liners and spot-on performances by Linda Lavin and Jayne Houdyshell, its humor is almost entirely dependent on stereotypes that should have been left behind in the last century.

In the opening one-act Ms.Lavin plays Helene Nadler, a quintessential Jewish mother speaking at a Long Island meeting for gay parents. Claiming to be more understanding and loving than any other mother of a gay child, she tells us about her lesbian daughter, transsexual son turned daughter (also a lesbian), and very kinky youngest son (who isn't just gay but is also into leather and scatology). Rudnick gives Lavin some nifty jokes, which she delivers flawlessly. You have the same haircut as a 12-year-old Amish boy,&rdquo she says. Of course you're a lesbian.&rdquo But the Jewish and gay stereotypes are tired, and Helene is a variation on Lavin's meatier roles in The Tale of the Allergist's Wife and The Sisters Rosensweig.

The second one-act features the flamboyant Mr. Charles (Peter Bartlett), who presides over a Palm Beach public-access TV show called Too Gay. Apparently Mr. Charles (previously seen in Rudnick's Rude Entertainment) was driven from New York because his effete style has become embarrassing to the gay community. Mr. Charles has a buff go-go boy ward named Shane (Mike Doyle), who not surprisingly turns out to be as airheaded as he is attractive. Let us not resort to easy stereotypes,&rdquo Mr. Charles says. Too late.

In the third playlet, Jayne Houdyshell is self-described craftperson Barbara Ellen Diggs of Decatur, Illinois. Among her cutesy creations is a crocheted tuxedo cover for a toaster, and she notes that another project requires labor, Zoloft, and glue.&rdquo Rudnick adds pathos to the jokes when Barbara recalls making an AIDS quilt for her son. Under Nicholas Martin's drection, Houdyshell expertly juggles the funny-serious tone. But the actress has played more interesting Midwestern women in Well and The Receptionist.

The final one-act brings together all the characters, including new mother Joann Milderry (Christy Pusz), in a maternity ward. Rudnick tries to crack wise about gay kids and their parents but veers off course with an extended ad for a certain discount store located near Ground Zero.

The product placement shouldn't come as a surprise, since Rudnick will clearly do anything for a laugh-whether it's having a Jewish mother talk about her son's raunchy sex life or having a vapid go-go boy rhapsodize about shopping at Century 21. Rudnick stoops to easy laughs throughout The New Century, and that's a waste of his trademark wit.


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