Regional Reviews: St. Louis
The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told
Also see Richard's review of Of Human Kindness
The structure is completely flipped in Paul Rudnick's epic The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told, on stage now at Stray Dog Theatre. This play begins with a colorful, mythic comedy (and funny costumes). And then, after intermission, Mr. Rudnick's almost entirely gay cast of characters is whisked away to real life in Greenwich Villageto a land that's every bit as flat and real and unforgiving as the interior of Kansas. But in both worlds, in the hands of an exceptional director like Justin Been, the highs of their lives will seem effortlessly high, and the lows, inescapably low, in this new revival of the 1998 comedy.
Luke Steingruby is a handsome, heartfelt pixie as Adam, in the first halfthe Adam, in the Garden of Eden. And then he's Adam, a progressive schoolteacher in the second half, hosting a Christmas party at his exuberantly decorated flat, with his partner Steve (that Steve, now the bane of right-wing conservatives, apparently). He's played by the delightfuland sometimes witheringly disdainfulWilliam Humphrey.
It's God and the gays, smashed together for better and worse, over 160 minutes. And I really did say to myself, in the final 30 minutes, "okay, let's wrap this up," three different times. But there's an intermission, and a cash bar. The running time is also made worthwhile by Mr. Rudnick's comic genius (he's the screenwriter of Addams Family Values) and by a great cast of local actors, including a wickedly grumbly Maria Bartolotta as Jane, and an effervescent Angela Bubash as her significant other, Mabel. Ms. Bubash's bump-and-grind to get herself pregnant near the end of act one is bested only by Ms. Bartolotta's grueling labor pains when it's her turn to give birth, alone in the spotlight after the intermission. It's completely exhausting, but in a good way.
Jeremy Goldmeier makes for a deliciously sassy Pharaoh, and Dawn Schmid is perfect as Adam's Mormon teaching assistant. Jennelle Gilreath gives us some spiritual grounding in the beginning and end, first as an outspoken audience member and later a TV rabbi, with just a dash of Edith Prickley in her characterization. And Stephen Henley shows us again why he's an indispensible member of the Stray Dog ensemble, as Pharaoh's boy toy and later a box-dancer, hilarious and fearless, in his share of the show's many thongs and jockstraps that go by in parade.
Unlike Frank Morgan, playing the hapless "man behind the curtain" in Oz, this show's "god" is right there in the open for much of it, in the person of Patrice Foster: professional, but not particularly forthcoming. She's the first act's very on-point stage manager, calling the cues, from an awe-inspiring Big Bang, up to her own exit, on her own schedule, later on. But her farewell leaves the eternally questing Adam, suddenly under his own volition, to show us what he's learned from all his experience inside the Old Testament, back in act one. And, in a way, that final moment in act two completes playwright Rudnick's "grand reversal," allowing this Adam (in a life or death moment) a dream-like return to his own Land of Oz.
The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told, through December 22, 2018, at the Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Ave., St. Louis MO. For more information visit www.straydogtheatre.org.
Cast (in order of appearance):