Review: 'Bad boy' theater company throws a 'Wild Party'
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 26, 2010 - If you like your tragicomedies with a dash of self-analysis and a heaping helping of sex, you'll want to RSVP in the affirmative to "The Wild Party," produced by New Line Theatre.
Set in 1920s Manhattan, Andrew Lippa's play takes place mostly over the course of one night. Former vaudevillians and bored lovers Queenie (Margeau Baue Steinau) and Burrs (Jeffrey Pruett) decide to throw the bash after Queenie envisions getting even with the violent and abusive Burrs by embarrassing him in front of their friends and acquaintances.
The party guests are like a Greek chorus that both amplify and react to the play's primary plot: Queenie's attraction to Mr. Black (Keith Parker), the young, handsome date of friend/rival Kate (Deborah Sharn), and Kate's efforts to lure Burrs.
"Give me a bottle of bourbon and half a chicken and I'll conquer the world!" Kate exclaims in her first solo "Look at Me Now." Refreshingly, none of the actors wears a microphone, and Sharn's strong, clear voice somewhat upstages that of Steinau. Proving she can belt it out as well, Nikki Glenn's lesbian character Madeline True hits the mark in her "Old Fashioned Love Story," about women who "wrestle bears and passersby."
The drinking, drugs and dramatic foreplay continue into the morning hours. And as the arousal builds and finally lands Queenie and Mr. Black in bed for simulated sex, the guests' flirtations devolve into a huge, heaving mosh pit of group sex before exploding into its climax, after which the party-goers all fall to the floor in exhaustion.
While no skin is shown throughout the play, the sex scenes could hardly be more graphic with clothes off. Queenie's gartered stockings and corset, which, at turns, render her both powerful and vulnerable, is the barest ensemble onstage. Well, at least until a male party guest strips down to his T-shirt, boxers and socks.
There are virtually no costume changes, except for Queenie pulling on a white flapper dress over her corset, but the period clothes are interesting enough to carry off their longevity, as is the singular set. Scene designer Todd Schafer's ability to create lasting appeal is illustrated by the apartment's asymmetrical windows whose whimsy is repeated in the headboard of the bed, which later becomes part of the choreography.
The play is a good fit for director Scott Miller and New Line, which bills itself as the "bad boy of musical theatre." In his director's notes, Miller points out that "Wild Party" does indeed have a conscience. At the party's end, there is a gun. And there is a death. "How did we come to this?" Queenie wonders in the closing song, offering as a possible answer a lack of limits, boundaries and compromises.
"People die and parties fail," Queenie also notes in her finale. But even though her party ended badly, "The Wild Party" does not, leaving its audience entertained and with enough food for thought to last until the next New Line musical.
Nancy Fowler Larson covers theater for the Beacon.