by Mindy Leaf for Around Town Photo by Matthew Tippins
We’re all familiar with popular shows that extend their runs … typically due to positive reviews and increased audience demand. This usually happens around the last week of a performance. I can’t remember ever seeing a theater add a week of shows BEFORE they even opened. But that’s exactly the exciting news from Island City Stage in Wilton Manors. (I’m glad I reserved my review ticket early!)
Three days before Island City’s June 4, South Florida premiere of Off-Broadway hit BRIGHT COLORS and BOLD PATTERNS by Drew Droege, it was announced that due to audience response and practically sold-out advance bookings, the play would be extended from its original closing date of the 20th for five more days — June 9, 17, 24, 26 and 27. Another exciting new factor is that these dates would be mask-optional, as just about all, if not all, of their patrons are now vaccinated. Welcome back to the social pleasures of live theater! My advice: get your tickets ASAP! And for those who are still hesitant, or have personal reasons to avoid indoor gatherings, streaming will still be available from June 23 – 29. So there’s no reason at all not to get your shot of laughter therapy at this one-man show The New York Times called “Riotously funny!” I heartily agree.
“Bright Colors” opens to a kitschy, poolside patio furnished in bright, beachy, over-the-top island style set against a lurid orange wall. Twinkling lights frame the bar, floral cushions back rattan bar stools and boldly striped towels are strewn atop two prominent lounge chairs (seating for invisible guests). Loud party music blasts as perky, portly, tropical-shirted Gerry (Thomas Mark) dances onto the stage. Starting out somewhat tipsy, he never stops taking swigs from his bottle of Corona (followed by harder variants).
Gerry shouts for the sound to be turned down so he can be heard. And he IS heard! For the next hour and forty-five minutes (with one intermission), Gerry is heard loudly, brashly, boisterously and hilariously. He regales us nonstop with his personal gripes, pop-culture references and social observations while addressing three invisible guests who’d also arrived at this Palm Springs (Cali) home to celebrate the wedding of their good friend Josh and his interloper fiancé, stuffed-shirt Brennan. The rehearsal dinner is scheduled for that evening.
Except for Duane’s latest boyfriend, 23-year-old architect Mack (both seated but not seen in those prominent lounge chairs), this close group of friends are all at least in their 30s and it’s their first gay wedding. Yet rather than being able to celebrate the legalization of gay commitment, Gerry feels as if the earth has shifted beneath his feet. What begins as horror at receiving a conservative wedding invitation morphs into a soul-searching exploration of what it means to be gay in America today. Or as Gerry bluntly puts it (and he’s never anything but blunt): “I am happy for them … but they are not happy for us. I want to NOT be living on a cul-de-sac, going to bed at a decent hour.”
He turns to Duane, his ex-lover and former Washington Heights roommate (apologizing to Mack with, “Everyone f—ed their roommate in New York; it just made more economic sense”), he asks: “Aren’t you guys just a little bit scared? Suddenly it feels like we’re in a race toward normal. Because Brennan is normal and he’s marrying OUR Josh who is the greatest … he’s not normal, he’s weird!”
And now Gerry is feeling the pressure. “I feel like I should want to get married, but I don’t. There’s a whole new set of rules. My whole life … being told you don’t fit in and I was fine with it. Suddenly the word is you should have wanted to fit in all along.”
But that’s all coming in the more reflective and confessional Part 2 of the play, after intermission. It leaves you with something deeper to ponder after wiping the tears from your eyes – not of angst but of insane laughter.
For Gerry also confronts us with an ongoing stream of pop culture, TV and movie idol trivia that you’ll likely recognize (and relate to his dismay at the 20-something generation’s ignorance). He demands of clueless young Mack: “Who is your favorite Spice Girl?” When he pours beer into his cocktail to “cut the sweetener,” he goes into a tailspin at not being able to recall the origin of that phrase, finally arriving at Olympia Dukakis playing Clairee in “Steel Magnolias!”
And then there are his endless complaints about Josh and Brennan’s elegantly sterile wedding invite that concludes with the sentence: “Please refrain from wearing bright colors and bold patterns.” At one of his many tirades against this request, he sweeps his arms toward the riotously colored décor of their host’s Palm Springs home, announcing: “This place looks like Trina Turk and Betsey Johnson threw up.” Adding, “We celebrate things and make fun of them at the same time… But tomorrow I have to blend in with Brennan and his beige family.”
Gerry reserves special venom for Brennan’s mother, Harriet Newkirk, whom he blames for the invitation’s “no bright colors” demand. “I’m sure it’s Laura Ashley for God hates fags,” he says. “She wants to hide us. Where on the rainbow can you show me khaki?” Observing, growing up in Georgia, Presbyterians were called “the Chosen Frozen.” “Can we please OVERREACT?” he pleads.
This mask-liberated audience had no problem overreacting with laughter and delight at attending an evening of live theater in congenial company once again. At the play’s first Sunday performance (the one I’d attended), solo actor Thomas Mark received a well-deserved standing ovation. Even during intermission, many marveled at his incredible stamina – for not only was Mark “on” fulltime, sounding off perfectly timed comedic lines, he was constantly in motion — an oversized, outraged and outrageous personality that careened about, drunker and higher by the minute. His banter made us “see” the three invisible guests he conversed with and even feel the water once he removed his loafers to dip into “the pool” (downstage at our feet).
For such a wonderfully entertaining and expansive one-man show, credit also goes to its director/Island City’s associate artistic director Michael Leeds. Appreciation for spot-on scenic design (there were even real-looking cactuses) to Jodi Dellaventura and sound designer David Hart for sloshing water effects and more. Doubly-talented Ardean Landhuis once again served as master carpenter and lighting designer; and W. Emil White chose Mark’s clothes.
With “Bright Colors,” Island City ends its ninth season with a bang! The fact that this rather small, yet highly innovative, theater company was even able to create a ninth season “during this very challenging year” is a wonder. At a short preshow address, founding artistic director Andy Rogow publicly thanked benefactors, audiences and community sponsors for their ongoing support so they could keep “doing some of the best work ever, both in theater and through streaming.” Unlike too many others who were forced to shut down, Rogow can justifiably be proud in reflecting, “We continued to produce plays, including two world premieres, that were provocative and entertaining. And we were able to do it safely.”