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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
THE NEW CENTURY
at the Mitzi Newhouse Theatre, Lincoln Center

TRUE BELIEVERS
By SANDY MACDONALD

  Linda Lavin/PH: Charles Erickson

How often are you absolutely guaranteed laughs, whether in life or in the theatre? In the latter arena, at least, we have Paul Rudnick, who always ensures hilarity, even if his latest, The New Century, is pretty fluffy even for him.

It's easy to see how Rudd became enamored of the three characters who each get an act in which to monologuize, before coming together in a rather contrived finale.

Linda Lavin has played Helene Nadler's sort before: a material-minded Long Island (make that a hard g) matron, with an acerbic streak - which comes in handy as she claims bragging rights at a meeting of the support group PLGBTQCCandO (she'll spell it out but synopsizes the gist as why Johnny has no friends"). All three of her grown children are gay or transgendered or both, one with a side of kinky. Stereotypes may fly, but at heart Helene is deeply fond. As she puts it, her offspring have come up with very new, very original, very irritating ways not to be lonely."

Palm Beach cable TV host Mr. Charles has ostensibly been banned from New York for being too gay, but in Peter Bartlett's portrayal, he doesn't come across as cliche-gay enough. Sure, he's got the look (lemon sherbet hair, pastel outfits complete with jaunty neck scarf), but when he demonstrates the nelly breaks that got him booted from Gotham, the hand-flapping seems rote. Bartlett has been working up this role for a decade and perhaps has grown tired. As his muscle-bound, dimwitted ward, however, Mike Doyle makes an appealingly energetic accomplice, especially when providing a show of gratuitous frontal male nudity."

If Jayne Houdyshell were the only talent on display, it would make for a thoroughly worthwhile evening. She plays a compulsive craftswoman (set designer Allen Moyer really laid on the felt for the booth from which she addresses the Decatur, Illinois, Junior Chamber of Commerce on the importance of trying to create something worth dusting"). Her own output is indeed quite ingenious - hysterically, so - but will never compensate for the one creation lost to her, a son who died of AIDS. In any other hands, the material could end up maudlin, but Rudnick and Houdyshell take us on a journey that walks the knife edge of comedy and tragedy - no easy feat.

And if the final act fizzles? No matter. As on a shopping expedition to Century 21, the Ground Zero discount emporium that lends the play its title, we've already been treated to more than our money's worth.

 


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