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'Valhalla,' though dark, will keep you giggling

Buffalo United Artists and gay playwright Paul Rudnick have joined forces again.

The above is always good news. BUA has produced a couple of versions of Rudnick's acclaimed "Jeffrey," gone biblical with "The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told" -- with Garden of Eden residents Adam and Steve -- and not long ago, "Mr. Charles, Currently Living in Palm Springs."

The pairing of BUA and Rudnick always promises a fun time at the theater. And that is true again as the BUA's Chris Kelly directs another of Rudnick's recent eccentric comedies, "Valhalla," a time-hopping tale of Wagnerian opera, the historical and mad 19th century King Ludwig II of Bavaria and a wild, fictional teenager from Dainsville, Texas.

The tale begins in the 1940s with teen James Avery lusting after fellow student Henry Lee Stafford, even while pursuing Sally, the town beauty. James is also a thief, taking things of beauty from stores with the explanation, "I needed it."

So James causes havoc, Henry Lee resists but is intrigued, Sally is alternately shocked and tempted.

Soon, the town and James' sexual persuasion clash; Dainsville has no room for James the Flame. Then, "Valhalla" speeds us to Bavaria in the mid-1800s to meet another teen, Ludwig, a cartoonish, swoony lad who grows up the same.

Groomed to be the monarch, Ludwig hears stories about his grandfather who, taken with a tart, finally did something no king should be asked to do. "His own laundry?" asks Ludwig.

Ah, now we're entering Rudnick country, where gag lines come to the fore and unpredictability reigns.

Ludwig's mother wants him married; truthfully, the now-18-year-old doesn't like girls much except those impossibly ideal ones in myth and legend and sometimes in opera, particularly those in Richard Wagner's "Lohengrin."

A parade of eligible ladies fails to interest Ludwig except one, "the loneliest humpback in Europe," Princess Sophie. Always wanting to help and forever the decorator, Ludwig tells her, "You could put a corsage on it or something." The match is not to be, though.

Later, Ludwig's homosexuality, weird behavior and ridiculous excesses bother his underlings, and he is bound, confined and soon found dead.

Here the story starts to go astray. Paul Rudnick has an unhappy knack of letting Act II of his plays go downhill; "Valhalla" gets murky and even dark, and one-liners, for a spell, hibernate.

Rudnick can get serious quickly. Chris Kelly ties all of this together admirably on the borrowed Alleyway Theatre stage. -- except maybe for some bad Texas accents and a slight hint of under-rehearsal. The message gets through: Be careful what you wish for and differentiate "need" and "want."

"Valhalla" will keep you giggling for days. Eric Rawski is a lovable Ludwig, a misfit in any time or place and a perfect deliverer of Rudnick zingers. A great role well played.

Rick Lattimer is James, the most misunderstood of the night, but he convinces us that he, too, is all about making the world more beautiful. Ludwig and James would have been great fans of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy."




Review: 3 1/2 stars (out of four)

Comedy presented by Buffalo United Artists playing through March 12 in Alleyway Theatre, 1 Curtain Up Alley.

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