Alex Mills in assless underwear.
I have been informed by my editor that “Alex Mills in assless underwear” does not constitute a sufficient review of Synetic Theater’s generally fabulous, if sometimes sluggish, production of Everett Quinton’s camp late-80’s take on the classic Dickens tale of Revolution-era France.
I disagree, but fine!
This “Tale” is something of a curiosity, and something of a relic (said with love) of the legendarily grimy and subversive queer theater of 70’s and 80’s New York. An inspired framing device finds drag queen Jerry starting to prep for a big show when a knock at the door reveals a bassinet containing infant Dorian (mostly the face of Vato Tsikurishvili) and a brief note wishing Jerry only the vaguest of good luck with his new charge.
Thus follows twenty minutes of inspired comedy as rubber-faced Tsikurishvili plays the hell out of this baby, a surprisingly conniving, emotionally manipulative sort of infant. Out of his element, Jerry struggles to find something, anything to calm the bawling baby when he improbably lands on the eponymous Dickens. (Notably, inspired by a DVD case, not a book.)
Dickens is dense, yo. It’s hard enough to follow when you have the book in your hand and the bell is about to sound for lunch period, but the challenge only increases when you have to track one performer over so many character and scene changes. Even a performer of Mills’ charisma struggles at times to wring new physical and vocal detail out of the countless revolutionaries, aristocrats, counter-revolutionaries and peasants in Dickens’ weeping narrative. I admit to losing the thread on several occasions, even when Mills was always eminently watchable.
He performs one particularly long stretch of monologue while putting on what seems like an endless amount of makeup as he prepares for his performance. The physical performance of this scene is remarkable. Fascinating, really, but I found myself almost entirely ignoring the story being told.
Serge Seiden is fresh off directing the triumphant Bad Jews over at Studio, but even a director of his considerable skills would have trouble maintaining a reasonable pace over the course of two hours of solo Dickens. Some judicious cuts probably would have helped the cause.
A TALE OF TWO CITIES
May 13 – June 21
1800 S. Bell Street
1 hour, 50 minutes with no intermission
Wednesdays thru Sundays
Tickets: $20 – $60
Details and Tickets
It’s good to see Synetic creative staff stretching their wings a bit with Tale. It’s rare for them to take on such a heavily dialogue-skewed play. The typical Synetic attention to detail is there, with wonderful set design by Luciana Stecconi. Kendra Rai’s costumes are a world unto themselves, with various wigs, petticoats, and rugs doing multiple duties across the spectrum of gender and political era. And no Synetic show, especially one starring the impossibly flexible Mills, would be complete without some lovely choreography from Irina Tsikurishvili. A one-man fight over a gun is especially sharp.
While there are some significantly sleepy sections in the middle, the fun largely snaps back in the last 30 minutes or so, as the Dickens reaches the peak of melodrama and Jerry reaches peak fabulousity. Let’s just say that this Tale is never more fun than when it’s embracing its camp roots, winking joyously at, and with, the audience.
A Tale of Two Cities . Adapted by Everett Quinton from the Charles Dickens classic . Directed by Serge Seiden . Featuring Alex Mills and Vato Tsikurishvili . Choreography: Irina Tsikurishvili . Set design: Luciana Stecconi . Costume design: Kendra Rai . Produced by Paata Tsikurishvili for Synetic Theater . Reviewed by Ryan Taylor.