Friday, September 30, 2022

The Wild Party (review)

Spoilers ahoy! 

Almost three years ago, I was invited to see The Wild Party, the latest musical from the Morgan-Wixson Theatre in Santa Monica--and I so looked forward to it!  Then, Covid hit.  But, the folks running this theatre had their plans and they kept to them!

Andrew Lippa's musical, based a poem written in the 1920s, is really almost an operetta.  Like Evita for example it has very nearly no dialogue at all.  Instead we get one intense, entertaining, often startling, sometimes disturbing musical number after another, setting up the event of the title, and most especially our hosts--Queenie (Serenity Robb) and Burs (Hamilton Davis) a dysfunctional couple in the 1920s, a pair who came together like a pair of serpents and then tied each other into a series of emotional and sexual knots.  But when Burs goes too far, Queenie suggests a party.  It will be fun, she says, and he agrees!  Her plan however is to humiliate and hurt him, as part of this dangerous, powerful, ugly yet addictive dance they do.

The party itself makes up the bulk of the show, and of course things do not go according to plan.  Keep in mind this is the 1920s, in the wake of the 1918 Pandemic (the most terrible in history) as well as a what seemed like a never-ending war.  Women were fighting for political rights, new artforms and styles were emerging, racial and economic tensions were sky high, while deep into Prohibition booze still flowed and subcultures defiantly flourished.  Sound familiar?

Central to what follows are Kate (Kaitlin Doughty) and her dashing, quietly handsome beau for the evening Mr. Black (Deonte Allen).  Because Kate, frenemy of our hostess, has the hots for Burs and intends Mr. Black as bait to drive him into her arms, in revenge or a rebound.  Initially Queenie thinks this young man, who feels out of place among this bohemian crowd, the perfect catspaw, even as he himself finds her extremely charming.  

Then, she actually starts feeling something for him, as he does for her.  Worse (or better?) Burs begins to suspect as much.  This might be a way out for them, an escape from the spiral of bitterness and lustful pain at the heart of their life together.  She wonders, can I just leave?  Why haven't I before now?  He in turn wonders why he cannot let her go, cannot even face the prospect.  

As I suspected early on, somebody is not going to survive this party.  It will spiral into all kinds of directions, inhibitions and lies shed more swiftly (if more awkwardly) than garments as the night goes on and on and on.

Again, the music, dance and singing is very nearly non-stop.  It helps create this amazingly decadent world, one equal parts fascinating and repulsive, beautiful and toxic, free and in some ways enslaving.  Through pretty much everything--direction by Kristin Towers-Rowles, music direction by Daniel Koh, choreography by Michael Marchak, fight choreography by Amanda Newman--the party and its members (somehow not really guests) come to vivid life.  The double triangle remains in the center ring of this circus, with all four leads wonderfully alive and real across a range of emotions and situations.  But the entire ensemble do splendidly as well.

Some standouts include Emily Sotelo as the delightfully (?) predatory lesbian Madeleine, Spencer Johnson as the boxer Eddie, and Mirai as Mae, Eddie's mini bombshell of a girlfriend.  These and other characters get solos or sometimes numbers of their own, many of which make a kind of dream sense as the party (and show) continues, with reality slipping away, giving way to the terrifying delights of Truth.  Everyone deserves a mention--Eric Eberle, Sam Gianfala, Jonathon Saia, Steve Weber, Holly Weber, and Kelsey Weinstein

The Wild Party plays Fridays andSaturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m  until October 9, 2022 at the Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd, Santa Monica 90405 

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