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Baltimore City Paper

Garden Variety

Rudnick's Gay Gospel Plays It Surprisingly Safe

By Jack Purdy

The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told
Paul Rudnick
At the Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre through June 30

A biblical gay burlesque from the catty, campy pen of Paul Rudnick (I Hate Hamlet), The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told makes a fair bid at also being the longest story ever told--Act 1 runs a whopping hour and a half in the production now at the Spotlighters Theatre. And the reason for its length is obvious: The playwright thought his idea such great fun that he simply didn't know when to stop.

Starting with a Garden of Eden occupied by a gay couple, Adam and Steve (Oscar Ceville and David C. Allen, respectively), and a lesbian duo, Jane and Mabel (Laura Cosner and Katherine Jaeger), Rudnick runs wild though the Old Testament, including the flood story and the enslavement in Egypt, all from a thoroughly queer perspective. (And way beyond queer, in the case of the flood, where bestiality figures prominently.)

The results are mixed; the play sparkles with one-liners but also numerous gay and lesbian stereotypes. Adam is a sweet naif whose major contribution to human development is the invention of shampoo and conditioner in one bottle, while Jane is a tough-talking bull dyke who discovers both the pulley and the lever. Mabel, the most consistently humorous character, dances ecstatically in moonlit groves and tells Steve that "killing bunnies isn't nice." Steve is the only character not drawn with a very broad brush--he's the voice of reason who tells his three companions not to look for answers in an irrational world. They are still looking at the end of Act 1, when Adam and Steve turn up as Magi in Bethlehem. There they have a huge spat and end up insulting one another over their gifts of frankincense and myrrh.

Act 2 flashes forward 2,000 years to Christmas Eve in present-day New York, where Adam teaches elementary school and Steve is a contractor. Jane and Mabel are about to become parents, with Jane reacting not at all well to her advanced pregnancy. To formalize their love, Jane and Mabel have chosen a disabled, feminist lesbian rabbi (Michelle Pinkham) to perform a wedding ceremony at Adam and Steve's loft. (Like all lesbians, Jane says, the couple has "registered at L.L. Bean.") Rudnick uses the marriage and the Christmas holiday to make points about modern gay life--points made so bluntly that they could have come from the pen of polemicist Larry Kramer, save for the humor. The acts don't hang together well, despite a sweet attempt to recast Act 1's morning of creation in the second act's Central Park.

The nine-member cast, directed by Terry Long, does generally droll work, with all but the four principals playing multiple parts. (Edward Zarkowski, for example, plays the Pharoah of Egypt in Act 1 and Santa Claus--actually a drunken, failed, very WASPy guy named Trey Pomfret--in Act 2.) Ceville is especially effective at bringing out Adam's idealistic optimism--he's every gay boy from a small town come to the big city, certain it holds all the world's wonders. And Jaeger's Mabel, whether moon-worshipping in Act 1 or serving vegan cake "with kelp frosting" in Act 2, is giddily otherworldly.

For all its supposed daring and ultra-adult vocabulary (Jane has lines that could strip paint), The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told ultimately plays it safe with America's dominant religion. Rudnick never brings Jesus on stage. And considering that Jesus was a man who led an all-male group of followers and had an unusually close relationship with his mother, what gay playwright could pass up such material? Well, Paul Rudnick, for one.