Travel way back to 1928, jazz and prohibition are in full swing. Queenie (Erica Vlahinos), a showgirl, is fed up with her abusive boyfriend, Burrs (Keith Rabin Jr.), the vaudeville clown. After three years, their relationship has lost its spark and both of them are too desultory to leave. After he rapes her, she decides to humiliate him at a huge, raucous party, to which she invites a motley assortment from the fringes of society: a hooker, a strongman, a mute dancer, a lesbian on the make, a pair of incestuous brothers, a minor and a wide variety of others willing to let go of all inhibitions during the festivity.
In walks Queenie’s supposed best friend and chief rival, the sleazy former prostitute Kate (Liz Bollar), who’s picked up a mysterious guy and brought him along for the ride. Kate’s date Black (Aaron Conklin), a stranger not quite like the rest of the gang finds himself immediately smitten by Queenie. At first, Queenie hooks up with him just to make Burrs jealous, but she finds herself falling for him. Burrs is falling too, into a deep depression, though conniving Kate is happy to step in to soothe his anger but he wants no part of her, it’s sick and it’s twisted. There’s an abundance of drinking and drugs, a little bit of fighting, an orgy with mild nudity and even death, it’s a wild party.
Gravity Defied Theatre’s regional premiere of Lippa’s version of The Wild Party is amazingly accomplished. With a cast composed of volunteer actors, director and choreographer Danny Harrigan creates a production that knows, and achieves, exactly what it wants to be and look like throughout. He neatly captures the mood and feel of a decadent scene in 1920s New York. The whole cast is onstage and in nearly perpetual motion for the almost the full two hours of playing time, and are always in sync with each other to create a rhythm and physical style that help to establish the milieu and characters.
Rabin, who is also the company’s artistic production manager, is an equally charming and menacing Burrs. “This is probably the best character I’ve ever played. There’s actually a lot of Burrs deep down and it was nice to bring that character out,” says Rabin. He shows an amazing level of presence and maturity, particularly in “Let Me Drown.”
Vlahinos nails her character Queenie’s eroticism and manipulative nature. At only eighteen she’s probably a little too young to be the “ideal” Queenie, but her performance speaks for itself. “I’ve had a fair amount of experiences for only eighteen and I just had to connect to situations I maybe hadn’t quite lived yet. I had to connect to desperation and why you can still love someone while being treated that way,” says Vlahinos.
Bollar, provides a strong and comic counterpoint to the doomed lovers as Kate (the role originated Off-Broadway by Idina Menzel) and sells her big number, “The Life of the Party,” quite effectively.
Rounding out the major players is Conklin, I found with Black, he is really a caring, passionate person who is constantly fighting his primal instinct. It’s been amazing digging into such depth and interesting character development. Conklin makes a strong and charismatic Black. His solid vocals make “Pour Child” and “I’ll Be Here” very successful numbers.
Erica Tristler, as the seductive Lesbian Madelaine True and Amy Osatinski as Mae, are standouts among the supporting cast, along with Benjy Schirm and Chris Trimboli as the incestuously funny brothers D’Armano.
“It’s risky and it’s exciting to put a show with this much caliber in front of an audience. It’s nice to hear it well received. We went balls to the wall and it worked,” says Harrigan.
With a preshow warning of sex, drugs, alcohol and nudity (a flash of boob) Gravity Defied Theatre is proud to tackle shows that people won’t touch because of content and needless this won’t be the last risqué production from the company.
The Wild Party runs through August 28, 2010; Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30pm, and Sundays at 4pm, at the Aurora Fox Arts Center. Click here for tickets.
Gravity Defied Theatre