With a title as startling and attention grabbing as “Abraham Lincoln’s Big, Gay Dance Party” which has recently opened at the Acorn Theatre on Theatre Row after a successful run at last years Fringe Festival, you might think that you would be bombarded with some frothy, silly, meaningless gay review that addresses the rumor of Honest Abe’s sexuality with his good friend and bed partner Joshua Speed.
However, this extremely theatrical satire, directed with flair by Chris Smith is much more. It is an indictment of the American Political Machine – then and now – which strives to give the truest definition of “Liberty” and to knock down all types of bigotry while seven excellent actors wearing fake beards and stove pipe hats carry on like the Marx Brothers.
Written by Aaron Loeb, the show is a hybrid mix of biting humor, searing honesty and dance. A combination of “You Are There” (a television show of the 50’s that brought you live into history in the making – here the cornfields of Illinois, Rashomon where you get different views of the same story and the cleverness and wit of Alan Ayckbourn’s “The Norman Conquests” where you could see the three plays in any order and be entertained and marvel at the ingenuity of the playwright while following the story without any problems.
We start with a 4th grade Christmas Pageant where Harmony, the teacher in charge, has changed the script to include, along with Jefferson’s slaves, some sexual tidbits regarding Abe and Joshua’s “special relationship” which causes an uproar resulting in her being fired and put on trial – with an Afro-American woman to defend her who is running for Governor against her mentor, the prosecutor – a die hard Republican and gay basher and a Pulitzer-winning investigative reporter for the New York Times sent to cover “the trial of the century” who is a gay activist and real angry. They all have some surprising secrets reflecting their political and private agendas that emerge within the three acts which could use some trimming.
An audience member, chosen at random, selects which story is played first – and second – adding to the playfulness, which soon gets down to some very serious business and some serious boogieing thanks to choreographer Vince Pesce.
The terrific cast members play multiple roles and all have a go at Abe. Stephanie Pope Caffey especially stands out as the Defense Attorney Regina and the photojournalist Esmerelda. Robert Hogan, Ted Koch, Pippa Pearthree, Ben Roberts, Arnie Burton and Lisa Birnbaum all imbue their characters with sincerity and spunk.
Played out on an imaginative set by Bill English – three blown up portraits of Lincoln in the style of Andy Warhol that move, open up and fold out to become the various locations – the over the top fun cleverly takes the sting out of having the serious overtones become preachy. It’s a message play disguised as a political burlesque which will entertain, make you think and laugh out loud and perhaps even cringe.
Through September 5th. www.AbeParty.com Photo: Carol Rosegg