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Wednesday, Sep 2 1998
Unhappily Plotless
Twyla's Story. Directed by Susan E. Evans. Written by Charles E. Polly. Starring Suzan Kendall, Craig Dickerson, Rebecca Moutray, and James Kitzmiller. At the Magic Theater, Fort Mason Center, Building D, Marina & Buchanan, through Sept. 6. Call (510) 482-5054.

For Eastenders Repertory Company, there's more to the Appalachians than banjos and moonshine. The company's co-founders, director Susan Evans and writer/actor Charles Ervin Polly, now give us Twyla's Story, the follow-up to their two-character Appalachian saga Twyla's Boy and the second part of a proposed "Twyla Trilogy." This play opens as newly out-of-the-closet Ervin Tackett returns from California to Three Mile Holler, Ky., and discovers that Mama Twyla and other family members have their own skeletons tucked away in the proverbial closet. But director Evans and writer Polly are intent on showing us a side of a seemingly insular white-trash household that isn't of the twisted, inbred, Deliverance variety. The Tacketts are just as self-critical and open to change as the next family. They have the ability to come to terms with their hypocrisies; to change, and even to empathize with the plight of their "sissy boy" kin.

Matriarch Twyla Tackett (aptly cast with a very physically present Suzan Kendall) isn't your cliched down-home type. She's invested with Prospero-like powers, at one point calling up prodigious flood waters to keep a variety of family members trapped under her corrugated-tin-roofed home. Twyla punctuates her cigarette rolling with emphysemic coughing fits; her erstwhile confidence seems shaken, and she sorts manically through her collection of photos, hoping desperately, as she says, to "'member ole thangs." The family is a farrago of types. As the rains pound down, daughter-in-law Alta Mae exclaims folksily, "Shit fire and save matches!" The "citified" Ervin (Craig Dickerson) notices the family has been transformed during his absence. Ervin's niece Carma (Rebecca Moutray) has "growed up" all sassy and won't take guff from her redneck hubby. Ervin's CAT-cap-adorned brother, Jessie (James Kitzmiller), has evolved into the perfect backwater menace, drinking, grabbing his crotch, and rubbing himself on anything with a skirt.

As they did in their 1997 performance of Tennessee Williams' Something Cloudy Something Clear, the Eastenders show here that they know how to effectively disrupt stereotypes and complicate the terrain of human nature. And yet the play, sadly, never really goes anywhere. The unvarnished acting -- including dialect slips -- does little to help hold the plotless story together. And the grave wisdom we expect from a survivor like Twyla -- whose body often served as the target for her husband's fists, and who raised a gaggle of boys on nothing -- never appears. While Kendall's physical presence does immediately suggest the abstract matriarch, her truncated, spastic gestures and generally insipid acting paint Twyla as flailingly feckless. The company relies too heavily on charting the family's psychopathologies, and the script leaves little to the audience's imagination. (Ervin's histrionics over a cut on his hand are enough to suggest HIV; we don't need his later explicit admission.) And redneck Alta Mae's cool discussion of Ervin's "perty boy" boyfriend with the family makes one wonder if there isn't a touch of wish fulfillment in the Eastenders' otherwise trenchant fantasies.

-- Frederick Luis Aldama

Happily Appalling
En Drag. Various performers. At Kimo's Penthouse, 1351 Polk (at Bush), ongoing. Call 885-4535.

The essence of Polk Gulch can be found either on the street, where boy hustlers idle and transvestites radiate waves of attitude, or on the second floor of a bar called Kimo's, which overlooks the hustlers and gives the transvestites a place to work. Drag shows are normally so near to karaoke they don't deserve a review; but the Kimo's show seems to realize how awful a drag act can be and manages to plumb delightful new depths of bad taste. It's hosted by Sexilia Loveseat, who on the night I saw her wore a dress that matched the curtains and opened by lip-syncing a Sandra Bernhard routine. The evening can be divided into two categories: the regular queens (Sexilia, Platinum Fox, Alexandra, Harlow, and Victoria Secret, who also took drink orders) and guest queens (Marlena Phoenix and "Vanessa," who, incidentally, looked most like a woman). The last two were well-painted and -taped but gave ordinary drag fare; the regular queens had the most interesting acts.

Platinum Fox, in a short dress and swirling a lame cape, did an acrobatic, furniture-climbing routine to Ike and Tina Turner's version of "Proud Mary." Her imitation had all of Turner's coarse energy and may have been the most entertaining part of the night. Alexandra -- easily the largest queen -- did a lizardlike, pure-bitch strut about her "champagne taste/ And your beer-bottle pocket," enhanced by enormous draperies of clothing and obscenely fake jewelry. (The man behind Alexandra turned out to have facial hair, which is a testament to the volume of makeup he had on.) Harlow did a series of horrible country songs but also led the most rousing group number, a Dolly Parton-ish ramble about a whorehouse that came off like the Country Bear Jamboree. Victoria Secret exploited her aging features by pretending to be a Jewish mother singing about her stripper son. And Sexilia Loveseat not only made the Sandra Bernhard routine work but also did a tasteless duet between Cher and a squat Chinese urn on "I Got You Babe."

Part of what makes drag shows so tawdry is that the ladies expect tips, like strippers, and to milk the audience at Kimo's this show lasts about three hours. It's too long, of course, but the middle is enlivened by the enlistment of a few unwilling audience members to do their own versions of a drag act. The evening as a whole is appalling, but it has a happy will to offend that's missing from a lot of our local theater.

-- Michael Scott Moore


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