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Wednesday, Dec 24 1997

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The skits were full of Filipino in-jokes. "PCN Salute" made fun of "every Philippine cultural night you've ever seen in your life" by showing a circle of people waving little paper flags. Heavy cultural references made some of the skits feel like the old Yiddish vaudeville plays written for Jewish immigrants around the turn of the century. "The Amazing Guy Guy Fernando" was a magician who wasn't very amazing at all, though he was deadpan enough to be very funny; and "Bong Hit of Mr. C" was a traditional shadow play, showing a man made of cardboard with a woodcut-looking beard getting loopy. These were the clever skits. "Flirt," though, was a very, very long piece about a wedding, mimed to a voice-over of text from a horrible love-advice book called The Flirtatious Singles World. It was funny at first, because the book was so mindless, but the joke wore quickly. After five minutes the actors just spun their wheels, except for one blessedly unexpected moment when a tall wedding guest bowled over four bachelors by rolling a shorter wedding guest like a log. The other skits were dragged down by different loads of cliches; and all could have used editing. These writers in particular should have been anxious to cut: If poking fun at your own culture is a form of self-awareness, so is knowing when you've made your point.

Another local alternative Christmas variety revue was called the We Hate Christmas Shows. The stand-up comedy in the first half was so terrible I seem to have blocked out all memory of it. A longer piece called "The Meaning of Satan's Christmas" made up the second half: It was a wicked but rambling monologue by Satan about how pleased he is with what American industrialism has done with Christ's holiday. Mark Morey did a seething, wild-eyed, manic job with G. Beato's script. Beato also types up the cartoon Negative Creep for this newspaper.

-- Michael Scott Moore

Queen for a Day
The Last Hairdresser. By Doug Holsclaw. Directed by Danny Scheie. Starring Scheie, P.A. Cooley, Brian Yates, and Alexis Lezin. At Theater Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (at South Van Ness), Nov. 8-Dec. 20. Call 861-5079.

"What it was like," a tidy, well-muscled man addressed the audience, "I despised. I despised things." He explained his "disdain," "contempt," and "vitriol" for the world in lavish, exacting prose. He described hating people for every inexplicable detail of their being, even because of "the way they pronounce a diphthong." We laughed at the explicit pedantry of the monologue. This was not just a musical play, but a sociological study on the making and unmaking of that tragic royal archetype of gay life: the vicious queen.

It was a testament to Doug Holsclaw's unflagging comic skill that he made his new play The Last Hairdresser work at all. On the surface it was the story of Guy, Foley, and Pere, three gay men growing up in homophobic America who meet in a run-down beauty school called Renata's Magic Mirror. But the play was so fixated on the meta-analysis of the social and psychological implications of vicious queendom that the plotted scenes often felt like interludes between Guy's speeches analyzing his feelings. Although these monologues slowed down the drama and often felt overly expository, they also provided the evening's wittiest and most substantial fare. There were also moments when the entire cast burst into a song and dance. From the poignant lament "Scarves and Fresh Cut Flowers" to the disco number "Why Does Everyone Call Me Miss?" the songs communicated a Brechtian aura: This was less a story of particular individuals than of collective experience writ small.

The play mostly focused on Guy (Danny Scheie), a snippy flight attendant, and the way his tortured childhood, "straight" boyfriends, and cultural alienation compelled him to develop a poisonous charm rooted in self-loathing. His exasperation with the world grew, until one day his impulsive behavior caused him to lose his job and get arrested. At Renata's Magic Mirror, a beauty school that functioned as a jail substitute, Guy met Foley (a buoyant P.A. Cooley), a former hairdresser for the stars who had fallen on hard times, and Pere (Brian Yates, in a nuanced performance) as a closeted slacker.

As plots go, it sounded better on paper than it played onstage. It combined the tired but true scenes of children chanting "How come you talk like a girl?" with improbable scenarios involving a man counseling Guy how to be a nice person. Pinned together with caricatures and stock scenes, the play's appeal depended entirely on Holsclaw's vivid, line-by-line intelligence and director Danny Scheie's deft sculptural sense of ensemble comedy. And no matter how absurd or baldfaced the setup, the cast attacked each moment with a perfect mix of silly abandon and shrewd technique. Alexis Lezin was especially delightful as the drunken, bighearted Renata, but it was Scheie's brilliantly sympathetic depiction of Guy that found the play's darker roots: where the petty bigotries of the world seep inside, tint our characters, and create monsters in the mirror.

-- Carol Lloyd

Ballsy Dance
New Works. Choreography by Scott Wells. Performed by Scott Wells & Dancers. At 848 Community Space, 848 Divisadero (at Fulton), Dec. 11-13. Call 922-2385 or 885-3340.

"I worry that these dances aren't about something," Scott Wells said a few weeks before his company performed at 848 Community Space. "There's no story this time around." With minimal costumes, simple wordless music, no set, and no definite plots, Scott Wells & Dancers' recent work does embrace one essential of drama: contact. A dancer catches another and then is caught by many; someone and someone else collide and melt into the floor together; a group somersaults from one wall to its opposite while others hopscotch over them on their way downstage; and two stick to the walls.

Wells' two pieces consist of a series of small dramas, all built around simple acts of sudden connection. Some of these scenes don't resonate beyond limited if electrifying fact: Bodies have met. Others -- a dancer slips down the vertical legs of her prone partner and settles on his belly for a moment longer than necessary before moving off -- carry a future or history in the moment.


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