The fourth annual installment of "Queer Cafe" showcases an impressive range of writing and acting talent, as well as subject matter and literary styles.
Pussycat Theatre Company's anthology of four short gay and lesbian plays - directed by Susan Lev at the TheatreProject - offers a diverse and mostly accomplished evening of theater. That range is demonstrated by the evening's two most effective pieces: a romantic comedy and a science fiction play with political overtones.
The romantic comedy is "Nine Rooms Worth," the third "Queer Cafe" contribution by Center Stage associate dramaturgJames Ma- gruder. Approaching 40 and unencumbered by such materialistic trappings as a car or even a TV, Toby is about to buy his first house, a long-term commitment that seems to frighten him more than committing to his lover, Jack.
Played by RobbBauer, Toby is a mass of neuroses - the kind of intelligent analysand who exults in his own lightweight lunacy. Jacob Zahnizer's Jack, on the other hand, is the epitome of stability. Their differing outlooks nearly derail their relationship as well as their search for the perfect dwelling - a search that proves increasingly frustrating to their determined Realtor (Donna Fox). Satisfyingly resolved and neatly crafted, "Nine Rooms" also includes an especially touching speech about love, delivered with heartfelt sincerity by Zahniser.
The science fiction portion of the evening is Michael Slade's "Jesse's Head," set in the year 2052. At age 131, North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms has just been re-elected to his 14th term. Granted, he's not the man he used to be. Thirty-five years ago, when he was in declining health, he had his head removed from his body and hooked up to a computer.
After failing to defeat him at the polls, his opponent, a gay activist named Victoria (Julianne Franz), arranges for Helms' head to be stolen so she can reprogram his brain. The trouble is, Victoria's henchman, Joey (played by the protean Megan Anderson in drag), thinks reprogramming isn't enough. Joey wants the head destroyed.
It's a wonderfully outrageous premise, although the action consists primarily of the argument between Victoria and Joey. However, there's also a clever scene involving a character named Kevin (Rohaizad Suaidi), whose increasingly violent relationship with Helms' head symbolizes the threat embodied by the reactionary senator. (The play is not for young audiences; this scene includes a simulated sex act.)
Sarah Schulman's "Promenade" is an oddly bifurcated work, and the first half involves a fatal crime spree at a bus stop. But before the bodies start piling up, one character (played by Franz) has been worried about finding time to get to all the funerals she has to attend.
In the second half, she's happily at home with her lover (portrayed by Anderson) when a friend(Michael Willis) drops by and puts a damper on their cozy domestic scene. Death is the thread connecting the two halves of "Promenade," but it's not strong enough to keep the play from feeling disjointed.
Like its title, "The End of Human Frailty," by John C. Russell, is the most poetic offering, and it's performed with a dancer's grace by Suaidi as a man who is initially in enormous physical pain but is granted a new beginning by a trio of female gods.
Though this supernaturally hopeful piece has an excessive Pollyanna streak, it takes on slightly more credibility if the audience thinks of it as the urgent desire - or perhaps dream -of a desperate man.
In addition to the four theater pieces, the evening includes a video titled "RainingNixon," by Stuart Stein. The short film is divided into three parts which are screened between the playlets. Shots from some of Nixon's speeches are combined with fuzzy imagery, made even fuzzier because the video is shown on a screen divided into 12 sections. The collage-like result seems more like video wallpaper than social commentary, adding nothing substantial to the largely intriguing theatrical components of "Queer Cafe 2000."
'Queer Cafe 200'
Where: Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Through June 24