The wizard of out

BY AMANDA GOAD

Have your young adult years been tumultuous enough to inspire a compelling dramatic rendition? Todd Michael Hall thought so. As one of the co-founders of T&A Theatre Company, he was able to swing a Boston Center for the Arts production of Rainbow Chaser, a show he deems “80 percent autobiographical.” Hall inserted elements of fantasy, history and The Wizard of Oz into the otherwise straightforward story of his sexual and professional coming of age. However, his show fails to convey any coherent message beyond platitudes about the power of love, so its entertainment value is limited to the appeal of the individual vignettes it strings together. Rainbow Chaser marks a stage in the development of this promising young gay playwright, but that promise is not fully fulfilled.

The show’s plot and cast of characters roughly parallel those of The Wizard of Oz, and Hall’s updating and queering of certain classic lines is hilarious (the Tin Man, for instance, croaks for “Lube!”). Hero Scott (Patrick Connolly), dressed initially as Dorothy but later in a jeans outfit more appropriate to the gay scene of a generation ago, is separated from his modern-day friends and hurled into a crazy adventure. He pursues theatrical aspirations, but searches even more intently for true love. His companions, the Scarecrow (Sudarshan Belasare), Tinman (Deirdre S. Wade) and Lion (Colin Buckley), assist Scott in “chasing the rainbow.” These three lend the show a diversity sorely lacking in many other gay-oriented theater productions, since the actors are an Indian-American man, a woman in male drag and a man of size, respectively. Their foil along the way is, of course, the Witch (Mark Hetherington) in leather-daddy getup. Hetherington and Belasare turn in strong performances, not quite matched by Wade, Buckley or Trish Palmiere as the Emerald Citizen and Scott’s lesbian buddy. Connolly imparts little charisma to Scott, but this may help render him a credible Everygayman.

The topics covered in different stages of Scott’s dream range from phone sex to abusive relationships, from antidepressants to the Holocaust and its modern-day analog, AIDS, from parental homophobia to the unnecessary stricture of gender roles in our society. Sex scenes are plentiful but tasteful.

The script includes strong segments, most notably “Are You A Man or A Woman,” but the transitions between relatively silly and serious topics seem jerky, the analysis of social issues imparts little new insight and quite a few scenes lapse into outright cheesiness. Even at the best moments, amateurish touches in the production limit its power, as when Buckley, on the second night of public performance, stumbled over many of his lines; when the top in an S&M scene made no effort to simulate actual contact with his slaps; or when a combination of poor sound quality and lack of inflection made the recorded dialogue to a puppet sequence barely intelligible.

The final sequence, set in Burlington’s 135 Pearl Street, has great unfulfilled potential. The emotional and sexual tensions among small-city gay bar regulars could have been elaborated with more of the humor Hall brought to other scenes, and perhaps should have been related back to issues raised earlier in the show. This scene exemplifies a puzzlement that undercut the show for me — with both the storyline and Hall’s biography citing a move from Vermont to Boston upon college graduation as the impetus for personal awakenings, why didn’t the playwright insert any Beantown color?

Walking out of the Leland Center after the performance, I questioned whether I was being too hard on the show, holding it to unreasonable or irrelevant standards based on my longtime favorites Tony Kushner and Larry Kramer. Many aspects of Rainbow Chaser, probably, would go over better with audience members less steeped in gay culture and less familiar with gay theater tradition. Still, with its subdued poignancy and only intermittent titillation, I doubt the show provides much better an introduction to the modern gay experience than an evening at nearby Club Café.

T&A Theatre Company claims to take its name from those of its founders, Todd Michael Hall and Anne Continelli (billed here as Assistant Director, Co-Producer and Puppet Coordinator). The company’s stated mission is “to provide uplifting support to new and upcoming artists and to provide a firm well rounded understanding of our times.” Rainbow Chaser lifts creative performances up and out, but its shapeless depiction of our twentysomething gay times does little in the way of firming and rounding.

Rainbow Chaser runs February 7 through March 1, with shows on Thursday and Friday nights at 8pm and Saturday nights at 7pm and 9pm, at The Boston Center for the Arts Leland Center, 539 Tremont St, South End, Boston. Tickets are $20, $15 for students and seniors. Tickets may be purchased by calling The Boston Center for the Arts Box Office at 617-426-ARTS (2787). A special acoustic performance by YOLANDA, Drag Queen Singer/Songwriter happens Saturday March 1st at 10:30pm (after the 9pm show of “Rainbow Chaser” — tickets are an additional $10).

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