Charles Busch, in his Shanghai Moon, parodies an old movie genre in which the wicked Orient seduces and reduces the greedy but gullible Occident, usually in the form of some evil Eastern strongman ensnaring a beautiful Western lady. Opium was the religion of such mass entertainments, and it is plentiful in Busch’s rather too routinely contrived plot (even for a spoof), which is shorter on laughs than his previous similar outings.
Though an expert female impersonator, Busch may have grown a trifle too old (“mature,” the usual euphemism, seems inappropriate here) for the heroine, Lady Sylvia Allington, risen from rags to riches, and the jokes in the performance often boomerang on the performer. B. D. Wong, without the requisite menacing stature, nevertheless captures the sinister General Gong Fei, and can make the words “Doctor Wu” send shivers of laughter down the spine. Daniel Gerroll is equally adept as the doddering Lord Allington and the swaggering opium runner Pug Talbot, and I have no quarrel with the support of Becky Ann Baker, Sekiya Billman, and Marcy McGuigan, though her Dr. Wu is better than her British barrister.
B. T. Whitehill’s décor manages to be appositely overwrought, and is condignly lighted by Kirk Bookman, but it is the costumes of Michael Bottari and Ronald Case that sultrily triumph. Carl Andress’s direction seems aptly outré, but, finally, the event’s chief function seems to have been to provide several reviewers with an opportunity to parade their arcane knowledge of cheesy old flicks.
Barry Edelstein’s staging of The Winter’s Tale is full of idiosyncratically far-fetched notions, some of which surprisingly click, while others, if excessive, at least do not offend. Though Edelstein, to be sure, is saddled with four distressing performances—the hammily underacted, nattering Polixenes of Michel Gill, the loudly fishwifely Paulina of Mary Lou Rosato, the hackwork shouting-match Camillo of Larry Paulsen, and the not-lost-enough Perdita of Elizabeth Reaser—the others do nicely or better. Consider David Strathairn’s tormented Leontes, Barbara Garrick’s dignified-even-in-tatters Hermione, Gene Farber’s boyish but not loutish Florizel, and Teagle F. Bougere’s Autolycus, engaging even when racing around on a flower-bedecked scooter.
Unexpectedly agreeable is having the play accompanied by bits of live piano music, even as little Mamillius’s chief toy is a miniature Baldwin, from which the child and sometimes his father wrest touchingly tinkly sounds. Likewise the upstage presence of an artificial weddinglike cake, from which edible chunks are occasionally consumed. Or a shower of light bulbs hurtling down on several strings to create a wintry landscape. Less felicitous are the apportioning of Father Time’s lines among the cozily seated cast; the use of a stage platform, its top plank lifted, as a storage compartment; a cliché curtain behind which couples are dancing in shadow play; and the bursting of several toy balloons.
Still, much of it risk-takingly works, including Mattie Ullrich’s costumes, Jane Cox’s lighting, and, at times, the music of one of my least favorite composers, Michael Torke. Narelle Sissons, who specializes in sparse, cut-rate scenery, has managed to make a near-bare stage, including some handsome, versatile blue curtains, look sufficient, and Cox’s strobe lights even rescue the pursuit by a man-hungry bear from looking risible. Child actors, except when they are British or French, can be a serious problem, but Michael Reid, as American ones go, is at any rate unobjectionable.
By Charles Busch, at the Greenwich House Theatre.
The Winter’s Tale
The Shakespeare play, staged by Barry Edelstein at Classic Stage Company.