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Regional Reviews

Drag musical version of Valley of the Dolls
comes to Albuquerque

Aux Dog Theatre



With gay marriage at the top of the agenda in the Supreme Court, Congress and the White House, with countries all over the world debating gay rights, with the Pentagon ending its discrimination against openly gay servicemen and women, and with many legislatures (including New Mexico's) dealing with gay issues, the theater, too, seems to have found a popular theme. In New York a musical about a drag queen who saves a shoe factory, Kinky Boots, last weekend won six Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

At the same time in Albuquerque, on a more humble level, an original drag musical with the same title as the once-scandalous 1960s novel and movie Valley of the Dolls is being performed at the Aux Dog Theatre by a 17-year-old drag group called the Dolls.

Not that the Dolls' performance is heavy going or politically self-conscious. Quite the opposite. While those of us who love the theater usually search out weighty dramas and sophisticated comedies that instruct us about the world at large and the mind within, when temperatures rise, summer sets in and lassitude overlays life, a bit of fun and frolic is hardly amiss. And that is just what the Dolls are offering at the Aux Dog Theater Friday-Sunday until June 23.

Eleven male actors, many using only stage names, offer a dramatically revised version of the original story about aspiring Hollywood actresses, producers, directors and a agents. Written and adapted by Tequila Mockingbyrd and directed by Jim Johns, the play employs music, lip-synched songs, photos and videos in a complicated multimedia performance that hops, skips and jumps across the decades, touching on parodies of, among others, Richard Dreyfus and Captain Kirk, who intones, "It's space, the final frontier."

The dolls of the title are not women or even men in drag but pills, uppers and downers, stimulants and depressants. The plot, such as it is, is a pastiche of scenes and sprightly dialogue, including references to Albuquerque. Much of the action and most of the talk involves sex in one form or another, including on-stage pretense at oral sex and intercourse, although there is no nudity more graphic than a guy in a swimsuit. A recurring joke concerns a woman who keeps accidentally dropping a dildo from her purse. "You're the most beautiful girl who ever dropped a dildo in my office," a would-be big shot tells a would-be actress.

The story, as rewritten and interpreted by the Dolls, is ribald, raucous and ridiculous. It is intended to be over the top, and it is. The cast, led by the energetic A.J. Carian as Neely O'Hara and Mockingbyrd as Helen Lawson, clearly has a lot of fun with the succession of skits and put-ons, and so does the audience, with the contagiousness gathering momentum as the play moves into the increasingly ribald second act. From time to time, one of the actors walks into the audience and involves a bystander in the hijinks.

Surprising gender-bending twists are given to sex scenes between men and women when men play the part of women. In one scene, a man playing the role of a young girl asks another man playing the part of a woman if he is a lesbian.

Valley of the Dolls at Aux Dog Theatre through June 23. For tickets and information go to www.auxdog.com or call 505-254-7716.

--Wally Gordon



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