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Wednesday, Jul 9 1997
Summer Camp
Dirty Little Showtunes! By Tom Orr. Directed by Allen Sawyer and John Karr. Starring Orr, David Bicha, Eric Brizee, Trauma Flintstone, Birdie-Bob Watt, and Randy Wendelin. At Theater Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (at South Van Ness), through July 27. Call 861-5079.

The gay-themed lyrics in Dirty Little Showtunes! were written by Tom Orr, who once lived and worked in Seattle with Dan Savage, the columnist, and Showtunes! is just the kind of show Savage would like. In his sex column he's slammed Sling Blade and praised Mission: Impossible (he liked watching Tom Cruise), which hints at the pure and deliberate lack of taste you should bring to this revue. A good sample is Orr's perversion of the "How do you solve a problem like Maria?" song from The Sound of Music into "How Do You Solve Your Problem Gonorrhea?" which features three gay men dressed as nuns. Randy Wendelin is huge, muscle-bound, and funny-looking in a habit; he wags his finger and sings, "Don't let him come inside your mouth/ Not even just a taste." The crowd loved this the night I went. In fact the audience felt like a giddy group of boys who had never been allowed to enjoy their show tunes before. They laughed on cue, whether or not the lines were funny, and they stomped on the floor when something was genuinely good. For a song drawn from "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General" in The Pirates of Penzance, the bald David Bicha wore a gray robe and glasses, posed with a cigarette in a long black filter, and sang, skittishly, "For esoteric sex acts that are highly unconventional/ I am the very model of a modern homosexual," and everyone stomped.

There are a few weak operatic transitions between songs, and a few corny retread gay jokes -- about cowboys, about dropping soap -- but most of the lyrics are funny and sharp, and all the singers are polished professionals. Birdie-Bob Watt does an impressive job with "I'm So Over the Rainbow," a serious critique of gay symbols sung to the famous Wizard of Oz melody in Watt's controlled, reedy-edged voice. (One verse goes: "I think what pink triangles teach got lost/ How do beach towels and key chains link to the Holocaust?") Orr himself performs, and during Act 1 he challenges the audience to offer some parameters for a song -- a melody, a place, a sexual position -- then writes the lyrics at intermission and sings a new song during Act 2. For "sexual position" on the night I went, a drunk woman behind me stood up and spluttered, "Boring missionary position!" which inspired a relatively boring song, but Orr's sheer verve in writing lyrics ad-lib helps keep the show fresh. Most of the second act makes fun of the tension between leather men and drag queens, both within the gay community and within the mind of a single leather man -- Wendelin dresses in a Roman-style leather skirt and sings a number called "Girlie!" (from the musical Purlie), about his own fey tendencies. It's all very tasteless and clever. Orr admits a lifelong secret love for show tunes and calls his revue a satirical "homage," but you don't need a respect for the form to enjoy the performance. For people (like me) who can't stand show tunes, it's fun to watch them get skewered by Orr's dirty mind.

-- Michael Scott Moore

Menage a Dog
Sylvia. By A.R. Gurney. Directed by John Rando. Starring Kelly Waymire and William Anton. At the Marines Memorial Theater, 609 Sutter (at Mason), through Aug. 31. Call 771-6900.

A man finds a dog. An adorable bitch, to be precise. He brings her home and falls in love. His wife isn't pleased. She consults a marriage counselor, who first informs her that it's a midlife-crisis thing and then asks just how intimate the two, er, companions are. The wife at first dismisses this innuendo, but then stumbles: "Well, there's a lot of petting ... licking ... and stroking." The audience giggles.

Ah, the charms of the bestial love triangle.
Many a savvy theatergoer will ignore the ads for Sylvia, with the dot over the "i" a darling little paw print. They will assume that a Theater Row comedy featuring a lovable doggie can't really satisfy their yen for cutting-edge drama or surprising social commentary. But A.R. Gurney has achieved a bizarre feat in his play about cross-species love: It is at once wholesome and entirely depraved, giddy and sublime. Like the screwball comedies of the 1930s, in which stylistic lightness allowed writers to tread deep into taboo territory, Sylvia takes on the perverse and prevailing affairs of the heart that afflict many a married man (and woman). It also speaks to the profound empathic bonds between animals and humans that both mirror the lure of deviant gender, race, and generational relations and at the same time transcend them.

When Sylvia (played by the irresistibly emotive Kelly Waymire) grovels at the feet of her new master, she smells his shoes and gushes, "I even love you when you hit me!" Suddenly a story about a guy and his dog turns into an S/M scene between an older man and his cute blond love slave. Such unnerving and stimulating double meanings bore holes into the play's gentle mainstream facade. When Greg, the middle-aged professional, struggles to express his newfound passion to his suspicious wife, he croons: "I have a need. If I could put it into words, it wouldn't be a need. I really want her, Kate."

As if domination weren't metaphor enough, Gurney gets kinkier. "Dogs are like children," muses the philosophical-minded Tom (and owner of Bowser), whom Greg and Sylvia often meet at the park. Greg expounds on Sylvia's "cute little butt" and "multicultural heritage," and the image of the exotic, submissive younger woman morphs into one of father-daughter incest. When Bowser deflowers Sylvia behind a bush, Tom cheers his "son" on. Greg becomes apoplectic with jealousy as Bowser gets a little of what Greg would really like. "He raped her!" he cries.


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