Regional Reviews: Los Angeles
Fruit Fly is another of Jordan's autobiographical pieces. It's full of funny stories, supported by a series of reminiscent photographs. In this piece, Jordan promises to answer the age-old question, "Do gay men really become their mothers?" Therefore, many of the stories focus on Jordan's childhood, and his relationship with his mother into adulthood.
One problem with the show is that this framework, this purported raison d'être for the whole piece, doesn't really support it. There are three reasons for this. First, a bunch of the stories (such as when Jordan, as a young man, spent years partying it up with drugs and drag queens), while interesting, have nothing to do with whether gay men become their mothers. Second, it is pretty clear early on in the show that Jordan and his mother are wildly different. (Good Lord, he tells us that she never understood jokes.) Third, while he never expressly makes the connection in the show, when you think really hard about it, the one thing that they both have in common is abandoning the other when the going got too tougha fact which is really unfortunate for a show that attempts to be a sweet, touching meditation on a mother's gradual acceptance of who her son is. Jordan also talks (quite amusingly) about how his mother and grandmother gave him a secret place, a protected garden in which the little boy could play with dolls and make potholders ("I was very artistic," he adds, pointedly), but always told him, "Don't show your daddy." It's a cute bit and it gets laughs; but when Jordan ultimately had issues with whether his father was ashamed of him, he concludes that most of it was in his headfailing to address the fact that it might have been years of being told to hide his less-than-macho accomplishments from his father that put those thoughts there.
Another problem with the show is that it isn't quite ready yet. On opening night, Jordan lost his place a couple times, tripped over some words, accidentally destroyed a touching moment he was creating, and repeated a line or two that probably shouldn't have been repeated. (One repeated joke, however, earned laughs each and every time he went back to it.) More than that, the piece still needs to be edited. A story about a school-aged Jordan catching "the help" singing the Rolling Stones trickles off with no ending, leaving us wondering why he told it.
But when Jordan is on, there are few better. His attention to detail in his storytelling, his hilarious southern similes, and his gleeful facial expressions all add up to some really terrific comic moments. He knows there's nothing particularly funny about his teenaged self spending all hours of the night at an illegal speakeasy; but when he tells us it was "Miss Odessa's Good Time House," and brings to life some of the characters there, it's perfection. There's an inherent contradiction in Jordan's (sometimes "TMI") stories and his southern gentleman delivery that makes for laughsa story about when he was asked, as a child, to remove his underwear and loan the pants to a cousin (who had left the house with nothing under her dress) is reasonably funny all by itself; but when Jordan comments, "I was undone," so is the audience.
There are some genuinely gut-busting moments in the show; indeed, there are long sequences in it that undeniably work. But it doesn't all hang together and, while the ending is sweet, it isn't really supported by the show that preceded it.
Fruit Fly runs at the Celebration Theatre in Hollywood through February 18, 2012. For tickets and information, see www.celebrationtheatre.com.
Celebration Theatre, in association with Reaction Productions, presents the world premiere of Fruit Fly, written and performed by Leslie Jordan. Directed by David Galligan. Michael C. Kricfalusi, Executive Director/Executive Producer; John Michael Beck, Artistic Director/Executive Producer; Jerry Gibson/Reaction Productions, Producer; Billy Miller, Producer; Michael O'Hara, Associate Managing Director/Production Manager/Properties Designer; Matthew Brian Denman, Technical Director/Lighting Designer; Mercedes Production Stage Manager; Mary K. Gabrysiak Rehearsal Stage Manager; Jimmy Cuomo, Scenic Designer; David Elzer/DEMAND PR, Publicist; Camrin William, Graphic Design.
Photo by Matthew Brian Denman