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Breeze off the River
and
Vice Girl Confidential

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Breeze off the River

It seldom speaks well of a "gay play" when its most baldly stereotypical character is also its most interesting. Yet that's exactly the case with Kyle Baxter's Fringe Festival entry into the genre, Breeze off the River. Of the boys in this band, only Alex (Brian Linden), a hopelessly queeny Off-Off-Broadway choreographer (his latest assignment is creating the dances for a gay fantasia about Abraham Lincoln), truly commands the spotlight. With a ruthless fashion sense, a vicious (if occasionally loving) put-down for everyone, and more concentrated wisdom than the I Ching, he makes himself the centerpiece of every situation - and every scene.

Linden only has to say the lines, providing no special intention or inflection (and he doesn't), to walk away with the show. But it's tough to get too upset about this playwright-sanctioned theft, as the nominal story, about an over-the-hill gay waiter named Sean (Baxter) who constructs a new family when he takes in his straight friend Eric (Jon Crefeld) and his eight-year-old son (Jono Crefeld) following a bitter divorce, is a strictly by-the-numbers affair.

Yes, the straight guy learns of tolerance, the kid sets off on the road to full-fledged metrosexuality, the lonely, recovering-alcoholic gay man learns moderation; the castrating harpy of an ex-wife even makes an appearance (Kerry Fitzgibbons is game but useless in the role), and there's a gay lawyer (Greg Vorob) on hand to ensure that all legal tangles are smoothly resolved. This all makes everything too tidy, too kind for the hard-hitting statements Baxter wants to make about love's vagaries: Even when homophobia rears its ugly head, it's a plot point, not a way of life, soon to be dissolved by another lightly humorous "family moment" scene.

Even those have little impact, given the stiffness and formality pervasive throughout the company. Baxter is especially unsure, apparently still at the "reciting lines" phase of his characterization. The others seem more comfortable, some a little, some more (Jono is an unusually pleasing young actor), but none suggest that director Deloss Brown put them much at ease with Breeze. Linden rides to particular success on a swell of decades-old gay-play tradition, but in a show so dedicated to defusing pre-judgment, the ever-entertaining Alex doesn't feel like much of a step forward.

Breeze off the River
Through August 21
Classic Stage Company, 136 East 13th Street between 3rd and 4th Avenues, just southeast of Union Square
Tickets online and Festival Performance Schedule: www.fringenyc.org


Vice Girl Confidential

Will white slavery ever get tiresome as a source of entertainment? Hopefully not. Not that '30s and '40s fleshsploitation films were intended that way, but their overreaching melodramatics haven't held up well the last several decades. As proof, I submit Todd Michael's play Vice Girl Confidential, at the Studio at Cherry Lane, which has more fun with the genre than should be allowed, working in the flesh peddlers, the hard-boiled mobsters, and the day-saving good guys with a gratifying comic ease.

The specific story is intentional nonsense about New York's most dangerous racketeer, Duke Craigie (Neal Sims, who also provided the pitch-perfect direction), how an unaffiliated madam (a vibrant, smoky Michael) and her hard-working girls become involved, and the ways the Law (represented by district attorney Slade, played by Christopher Yustin, and police chief O'Roarke, played by Jeff Auer) puts together the pieces of the puzzle... just in time, of course.

But what makes everything smolder so smashingly is Michael's crackling way with words, which overpowers his tendency toward parodic plot mundanity. Hearing lines as juicy as "They'll take it on the lam and leave you holding the bag," "I've been double-crossed like the Sixth Avenue El!", and "Women, haggard and unclean, have wept at their white slavedom," spoken with complete, unwinking sincerity, is a true pleasure. Of the performers, only Amy Henderson as a corn-fed farm girl with a secret and Johnny Calone as the hit man of the moment don't ideally operate in the slightly exaggerated mode the dialogue demands. Everyone else, including Walter J. Hoffman as a weaselly, vowel-munching mug, and Jill Yablon and Sarah Bunker as a pair of mouthy prostitutes, is just right.

This is all a considerable step up from Michael's Fringe Festival entry last year, The Greatest B-Movie Ever Told, which used its conceit as its sole raison d'etre. Vice Girl Confidential has little more on its mind than providing some devilish laughs, but is so dedicated to doing it the right, honest way, that it often works better than many longer plays at much higher ticket prices. Is it great theatre? No. But as an hour's worth of great entertainment, it's nothing to sneeze at.

Vice Girl Confidential
Through August 26
Cherry Lane Studio, 35 Commerce Street between Bedford and Barrow
Tickets online and Festival Performance Schedule: www.fringenyc.org