Thursday, October 09, 2008

Wig Out!

Photo/Carol Rosegg

One of the pure pleasures of theater involves being exposed to something fresh and original, like a unique voice or a little-known sector of the world. In his NY debut, Tarell Alvin McCraney brought an African rhythm to an urban life, turning a familiar tale into epic poetry; in his latest work, Wig Out!, he breathes a sassy glamour and turns a few linguistic tricks for the house ball scene, a world of drag competitions (read: not racing). The subject matter, like the language, is very pretty, but the dresses are on manniquins, so unless you're already into, say, Project Runway and drag queens, the show's a confusing jumble of interesting acts without any big idea.

In terms of attitude, Wig Out! is the freshest thing to go on stage since Passing Strange (in fact, "If you looking for 'the real,' you missed it, Stew wraped that ditty up a couple months back, baby), and it's certainly more authentic than the fumbling Bash'd. What it lacks in depth, it more than makes up for in breadth, starting with James Schuette's runway set (with "dressing rooms" visible in the elevated wings and a large stage in the middle of the normal seating area) and going through Toni-Leslie James's absolutely fabulous costuming (particularly the chorus--three real women--who paint the whole (mo)town red). As for Tina Landau's direction, it maintains a thrilling edge of mystery, going from cheap pull-curtain effects straight to the elaborately choregraphed dance-off.

When it comes to character, however, the lack of depth can't be ignored. Although each member of the House of Light gets a monologue in which they explain the origins of their current identity ("My grandmother wore a wig"), all the in-house flirting and complex relationships come across as absolutely foreign to the layman, particularly the competition between the muscular, controlling father, Lucian (Erik King), and his graceful and deliberate counterpart, mother Rey-Rey (Nathan Lee Graham). In particular, King powers through his lines ("Real nigga shit"), and it's not clear what he wants out of the House of Light. The more recognizable relationships between the on-again/off-again Venus and Deity (Joshua Cruz and Glenn Davis) and Ms. Venus's seduction of the perfect stranger, Eric (Clifton Oliver and Andre Holland), give a clearer touchstone, but even then, it's not clear why Eric is so quick to cheat on his new love (nor why he's called "Eric the Red"), save for it being dramatically convenient.

If Vineyard is expecting Wig Out! to make us flip our wigs through culture shock, they need to make the show more aggressive (more scenes with Daniel T. Booth or a night at Lucky Cheng's might help) and do more than provide a glossary for clueless audience members. Simply opening a window to another world isn't enough: you've got to make us feel it, too.

No comments: