Call it “The Poultry Play,” the gay comedy with the unmentionable-in-print four-letter-word title that is either slang for male-specific anatomy or another word for a male chicken. (We’ll pause here to let you recall some of George Carlin’s famous words that can’t be said on television – or in newspapers, for that matter.) Either way you slice it, its innuendo implies everything: Pale and lifeless, it tastes like chicken.
Mike Bartlett’s comedy is funny at times, clever a few of those. The best of the simple plot – a British man, known to be homosexual, finds trouble at home and ventures toward a woman; an inquisition of the heart follows – isn’t enough to draw the curtains and really dig in. What could take 50 tightly packed minutes has been drawn out to a lavish near-120.
It is presented by Buffalo United Artists and Theatre Jugend. BUA hosts Drew McCabe’s direction on the theater’s Main Street Cabaret stage, a space not easy to work with for its oblong footprint, L-shaped house, and passing Metro train, whose rumblings and horn blasts have interrupted (and occasionally accentuated) many a tender moment.
McCabe has made this weird space, which has many times been magically hospitable to both uproarious and moving exchanges, even weirder. His blocking choices often ignore a third of the house sitting stage-right, who don’t benefit from the realistic sight lines and positions the rest of the house receives. There are whole stretches of vicious, biting dialogue that would eviscerate a bigger production’s scenery, yet which here are played with arms crossed and stances askance.
His cast is not vacant in the vocal department, though; they read the play well, for the most part. Each steps up to Bartlett’s wittyesque script, dropping incredulous exclamations and rebuffs with the spontaneity with which they were intended.
Steve Brachmann and Jamie Nablo Lama do the most with their own unique charms. Lama brings a menu of emotions to her rampant character, who spends the bulk of her lines deciding whether she has self-confidence to appear in the next scene. I’d venture to say Lama breathes more life into her character than her playwright did.
Brachmann, too, adopts his character as fully as he’s able. Brachmann plays his emotions as they might actually be experienced: unexpectedly, naively and perplexedly. He’s good enough to even save a few cliff-diving moments, especially at the closing of the laborious two hours. McCabe could easily skim 10, maybe even 15 minutes off the last third of Bartlett’s overplayed home stretch. Not every character’s conclusive thought needs a moment of silence or reflection. Real life tends to pass us by faster.
However, the biggest concern is with Sean Marciniak, whose portrayal of Brachmann’s bitter ex is so difficult to watch and listen to, it might make you move your face. Marciniak’s energy is palpable, however he races through and overreads his lines.
To be fair, there are more problems with the play than in this production. It’s harder to resuscitate a text than it is to breathe life into it. Sometimes it feels fascinating: an exploratory peek inside one man’s sexual identity, a caring man implored to choose between two lovers. Other times it feels prosecutorial, like a Neil LaBute witch-hunt, eager to accuse the audience for its characters’ mistakes.
It’s fun to watch these miserable undesirables cavort around with their misanthropic spirit animals, but only until it feels nasty and uncomfortable. These characters never realize the joke’s on them until the joke’s already been on us, and then it’s too late to fix.
What: Buffalo United Artists
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through June 7
Where: Main Street Cabaret, 672 Main St.
Tickets: $20-$25, $15 students