Love Lockdown

Gratuity Meets Tact In Theatre Rhinoceros' New Musical Revue, 'Marry Me a Little'

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Theatre Rhinoceros' production of Stephen Sondheim's "Marry Me a Little" has a lesson in it for the "loose" men and women of the world. The players and womanizers and harlots; the libertine men and scarlet women. The sluts.

The lesson is this: You can be shamelessly lascivious and gratuitous while maintaining an air of sweetness and tact.

Under the direction of John Fisher, San Francisco's own queer theater company has somehow managed this feat: to put on a show that includes (but is not limited to) onstage blow jobs and frequent air-humping, but that somehow leaves its audience with a feeling of "Aw, that's so that was really nice." For all its unabashed horniness, "Marry Me a Little" keeps up its reputation as a sweet little thing.

(Full disclosure: I, the author, am being co-directed in another play by this show's assistant director, Keshuv Prasad.)

Perhaps its small size - a little theater with a little cast and a short running time - is what leaves the audience feeling warm and fuzzy. Or maybe that's the feeling left over from when actor Caleb Draper physically caresses several audience members.

In any case, this is not the "big gay musical" of the year. It's not even technically a musical - "Marry Me a Little" is actually a revue, a collection of songs spanning Sondheim's long career, many of which were discarded. They were originally strung together by Craig Lucas and Norman Rene to create a dialogue-free storyline about the trials of two single people trying to be in love.

Theatre Rhinoceros is imitating a Los Angeles same-sex production, but with a politicized twist. Fisher mixes parts of the musical with news images of the same-sex marriage debate and Gavin Newsom, he of the perfectly-molded hair and heart of gold. These happy scenes accompany optimistic love songs, while pessimistic ones are framed by footage of various Yes-on-8 villains.

Just two-and-a-half characters grace the stage, with Caleb Draper as Ben and Bill Fahrner as Mark, and the occasional participation of the pianist, Tom Orr. Orr deserves a tip of the hat for his ability to keep playing the score despite flirtation from the other characters and much spinning-about of his piano.

Other notable moments include Fahrner's expressive rendition of the title song, standing simply by the piano. The titular song is followed by Draper singing "Happily Ever After," in which Ben expresses his doubts about the happily-ever-after narrative of love and marriage, despite having just proposed to Mark. Because the show includes no dialogue, relying instead on pantomime to weave together technically unrelated songs, it's easy to become confused about who's mad at whom - and why. This isn't much of a distraction, however, as each song can be appreciated in its own right while only somewhat carrying the plot along.

Draper and Fahrner's voices entwine as naturally as their bodies do onstage, repeatedly. It's hard not to wonder if these songs intended as duets for a man and a woman don't sound better with two male voices. You know, like God intended.

Is this show camp? Allow me to answer with another question: Does a bear shit in the woods? Expect to see jazz hands, flashy smiles, exaggerated reactions, corny Sondheim lyrics, the works. But fear not, "Marry Me a Little" avoids feeling gimmicky.

Because throughout the show, "Marry Me a Little" is not a "gay love story"-it's just a love story. Blow on that.

Tags: THEATRE RHINOCEROS, STEPHEN SONDHEIM, MARRY ME A LITTLE


Hannah Jewell is the lead theater critic. Contact her at [email protected]



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