Friday, September 14, 2007

Review – Auntie Mayhem (Wings Theatre Company and Gato Flaco Productions)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

A gay version of Auntie Mame. I’ll admit, when I heard the title Auntie Mayhem, that was all I was expecting – a crass, shrill rip-off of the original play. To my surprise, I discovered instead a delightful, subtly thought-provoking, and above all, genuinely sweet play about a good-hearted ex-drag performer, Felony Mayhem (the always enjoyable Moe Bertran), and the family he creates when he opens his home to Dennis (Jason Luna Flores), a gay street kid.

The small apartment (beautifully created by designer Florencio Flores Palomo) is pretty cramped to begin with, already home to Felony, his partner Bobo (Ivan Davila), and their sometime houseguest, Charlotte Reyes (Mark Finley), a drag diva who used to be in an act with Felony. Though the apartment is tiny, Felony’s heart isn’t and soon he finds himself the guardian of two more street kids, Ivan (Carl Ka-Ho Li) and Epiphany (Andre Darnell Myers). Taking place over several years, Auntie Mayhem shows the subtle and not-so-subtle ways a family, even a makeshift one, can change people.

Ably directed by Donna Jean Fogel, Auntie Mayhem is well-written and Pumo clearly has an ear for realistic dialogue. The language rings true whether hip hop or camp. This is aided in no small part by the talented cast. Moe Bertran has a gift for playing over-the-top characters in a way that grounds and humanizes them. His Felony is a complex mix of emotions and feelings and they play across Bertran’s body and face in a way that is immediate and powerful. Mark Finley’s Charlotte is the opposite, closed and wary, using arch humor as a way to protect himself. This makes it all the more enjoyable when Finley lets Charlotte’s mask slip a little and allows the vulnerability to show. Ivan Davila as Bobo, an unapologetically blue-collar gay man, is particularly good and avoided stereotype. He is gruff, gentle, playful, humorous, and given the chaos of finding himself the guardian of three teens, remarkably serene.

It is in creating the characters of Dennis, Ivan and Epiphany that Pumo and the actors outdid themselves. It’s enough of a feat to have believable characters onstage, but to create believable teenagers is a true gift. It comes as no surprise that Pumo works with LGBT youth. Jason Luna Flores does an able job as Dennis, especially as he grows from street hustler to college student. He and Davila have excellent chemistry – a strong father/son vibe. Carl Ka-Ho Li has a dancer’s body and uses it to full advantage. He also pulls off a remarkable rap about Generation Q that is worth the price of admission. Andre Darnell Myers is exceptional as the transgendered Epiphany, especially at showing the rage that these kids can feel at the injustices of life.

That brings up the remarkable thing about Auntie Mayhem - the way it manages to teach a little bit about the struggles of gay teens, especially those of color, living on the streets. It also reminds them that all it takes is one person who cares to make a difference in these kids’ lives. Best of all, it does it subtly and never draws attention to “The Moral” or allows the play to become mawkish. For that, Pumo is to be congratulated.

Written by David Pumo
Directed by Donna Jean Fogel
Set Designer: Florencio Flores Palomo
Lighting Design: Michael Megliola
Fight Choreography: Kymberli Morris
Production Stage Manager: Shuhei Seo

Featuring Moe Bertran (Felony), Ivan Davila (Bobo), Mark Finley (Charlotte), Jason Luna Flores (Dennis), Carl Ka-Ho Li (Ivan), and Andre Darnell Myers (Epiphany)

Wings Theatre
154 Christopher Street
Through September 29th; call 212-627-2961 for tickets.