Pergola Theatre Company
at Angel Island
QUEEN CHRISTINA GOES ROMAN
She nags him after he's been out all night and comes home drunk. He treats her rough and messes around on her. She says she's tired of him. He threatens to leave, and sometimes he does too, but he always comes crawling back. You see, they need each other.
Unless the fact that the couple in question consists of a self-proclaimed drag queen and a doltish, leather-clad gay man strikes you as daring or unusual, you're unlikely to find much that's new in Michel Tremblay's Hosanna. Maybe the Canadian playwright's work broke new ground when it premiered 20 years ago; but today it seems dated, obvious, and dangerously oversimplified.
The play covers the late-night aftermath of a disastrous costume party: the cross-dressing Hosanna's elaborate Cleopatra costume, on which he'd worked for weeks, was an object of ridicule. Further streaking Hosanna's mascara is live-in boyfriend Cuirette, who continues mocking the costume after the party and boasting about his sexual conquests. In their seedy apartment, illuminated by the flashing neon lights of a pharmacy sign, they argue and throw things to avoid thinking about the fact that they're getting old.
Hosanna conceals his wrinkles with pancake makeup, and Cuirette tries to hide his gut by wearing his pants way too tight. Approaching their 40s, they still haven't come to terms with their own identities. Cuirette carries on his macho charade, imitating Marlon Brando, and Hosanna inadequately impersonates his screen heroine, Elizabeth Taylor. "When I'm dressed like a man, I'm ridiculous," muses Hosanna. "When I'm dressed like a woman, I'm ridiculous. But I'm really ridiculous when I'm stuck between the two."
If the first act of Hosanna covers familiar territory, the second stalls almost completely. When Cuirette storms out just before intermission, our only question is whether the play will be predictably resolved or whether Hosanna will decide to boot the bastard out once and for all when he comes crawling back.
Most of the second act is a skillfully written but rather obvious monologue explaining in detail the reasons for Hosanna's chagrin at the costume party. In the sitcom-style conclusion, Cuirette and Hosanna somehow come to terms with themselves and each other, resolving a four-year history of misery in about 15 minutes. Cuirette tells Hosanna that he never loved him for his clothes anyway but for what was underneath. The warm, fuzzy resolution is tender and sweet and life affirming but a bit of a reach. The idea that Hosanna can toss out cross-dressing as soon as Cuirette responds to the real person underneath is not only incredible but smacks of disrespect for who the characters are.
In this Pergola Theatre Company production Scott Cooper gives a rather unconvincing performance as Cuirette: he seems unable to fully commit to the role, repeating such behavioral quirks as a grating, nasal cackle instead of developing the character. Erick Konczyk's Hosanna is more impassioned, but his performance too is mannered and repetitive. The distracting lighting design radically brightens or darkens at inopportune times.
Howard Casner's Queen Christina Goes Roman is a more ambitious and politically relevant work but ultimately too jumbled, gimmicky, and inconsistent to succeed. Uncomfortably blending wisecracking farce and dead-serious drama, the play giddily crosses temporal and geographic boundaries--it's an impressive feat of imagination but, at almost two and a half rambling hours, sometimes a chore to sit through.
The setting is the court of Queen Christina: this 17th-century monarch consults 15th-century Pope Julius II about converting to Catholicism, after which she plans to abdicate and live happily ever after with Sister Gizele, the guitar-playing, rollerblading nun with whom she's fallen in love. Fourteenth-century King Edward II, Christina's childhood playmate, wants her to declare her sexual preference publicly. Also advising Christina on her decision are House Un-American Activities Committee lawyer Roy Cohn (here with AIDS), composer Peter Tchaikovsky, and Sebastian, the boyish simpleton the pope has been boffing for years.
The script is filled with anachronisms and political hot buttons. Casner's unlikely assortment of characters discuss, among other things, Stonewall, Jimmy the Greek, Jean Harlow, gay bashing, Oscar Wilde, and tabloid journalism. There are flashes of wit, but there's also a lot of gutter and groaner humor. Sebastian is portrayed as an irritating Valley boy ("Thanks, dude"), and Edward II is a leering jokester who enters chanting "Two-four-six-eight! Don't assume your king is straight!" He calls Sister Gizele "Jizzy." A large portion of Queen Christina comes off as a gay Mel Brooks movie. Call it History of the World, Part I: A Gay Fantasia.
That's kind of a shame when things start getting serious. Once Edward becomes the victim of a murder plotted by the pope and Roy Cohn and Christina must decide whether to keep her sexual preference secret, the play shows real potential for tackling political issues in an intriguingly deconstructive way. But by that time it's too late. Because of all the wiseass Mel Brooksian humor, the play's suspense, drama, and profundity confuse rather than affect the audience. Grossly clashing styles rob the play of a logical pace, and what could have been exciting seems labored.
You can't fault the Theatre Praxis cast or L.M. Attea's direction: this gleeful production has all the energy of a Warner Brothers cartoon. Mary Anne Bowman and Laura Ruth as Queen Christina and Sister Gizele are especially sympathetic and convincing. Susan Attea's upbeat, silly set design resembles an overgrown puppet-theater stage. Unfortunately, it's precisely this upbeat silliness that detracts from Casner's schizophrenic play.