And the award for best and most fabulous costumes in a new comedy set in a small downtown theater off Broadway goes to Gregory Gale. The more than three dozen wacky outfits Gale has designed for the 12 actors in Douglas Carter Beane’s “Fairycakes” are impressive.
Perhaps lost in that last sentence is the fact that Beane has written and directed a play in which there are 12 – count ’em, 12 – actors on the small stage at the Greenwich House Theater, where “Fairycakes” premiered on Sunday. Many Broadway musicals don’t have a dozen performers, and that includes the people who play instruments in the orchestra pit. Better yet, three of the “Fairycakes” actors are inspired veterans of the city’s post-Ridiculous theater, and once again, Julie Halston, Ann Harada, and Jackie Hoffman don’t disappoint. However, it takes each of them a while to deliver the expected laughs, hampered as they are by a long first act that ties together too many plot points taken from, among other classics, “Sleeping Beauty”, “The Little Mermaid”, “The tales of Pinocchio”, “Cinderella” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.
As if that wasn’t enough, Beane makes her characters speak in rhyming couplets. Nothing can sink comedy faster than forced whim, and with so many characters (double and triple casts abound), this intricate tale of nymphs, puppets, and humans trying to find love is often lost in the fog machine of the summer night.
But “Fairycakes” has a lot to do with miracles, and just over half of the tedious first act, Cinderella’s stepmother (Jamen Nanthakumar) and two stepsisters (Sabatino Cruz and Mo Rocca) appear in Gale’s stunning chiaroscuro outfits. to merge this wicked trio with Puccini’s Fools Ping, Pang, and Pong, who the New York Times recently informed us that these are racist descriptions, at least in the current Metropolitan Opera production of “Turandot.”
The moment is inspired by several reasons: First, there are Gale’s stylish and ridiculous costumes. The scene is based on two very different but classic fairy tales. It is driven by the utter madness of the three actors. And I couldn’t understand a word of his falsetto gibberish. Totally delicious. For about two minutes. Then go back to twee.
Fortunately, the other less intriguing details of the nursery plot disappear as soon as Halston reappears at the end of Act 1. No longer playing Bard’s Titania, she is now Elizabeth I of England, wearing her eponymous necklace. The queen apologizes for being a royal person, but insists that Elizabeth belongs here because Shakespeare mentions her, albeit indirectly, in his spirited comedy. Elizabeth is not happy with the “political” references; And as Halston plays it with assured comic fury, this actor grabs the show by his fairy wings to shape it. It doesn’t hurt that Beane gave Halston a great speech.
Disenchantment reigns in the much more focused second act, and Beane doesn’t successfully match up his many partners in ways Shakespeare never dreamed of. After such a long setup, the resulting chaos is genuinely funny and surprisingly poignant at times.
Hoffman and Harada’s pixelated fairy servants Moth and Mustardseed are joined by the equally outrageous Z Infante, who plays Cobweb, their cohort in mischief. Other standouts include Arnie Burton’s Randy Pirate, Jason Tam’s Lovely Cupid, and Kuhoo Verma’s Spectacular Aurora.
Unfortunately, the other fairy servant, Peaseblossum, the Fairycakes of the title, is the one with the most time on stage and, like many naive (Juliet, the most important among them), she doesn’t have much to do except be sweet and pretty. . Kristolyn Lloyd manages to be both while being chased by a Puck (Chris Myers) who has made up himself to be a satyr. Once again, great Gale costume.
As a director, Beane is great with his actors, horrible with his outings, especially in the background. There are constant traffic jams, not to mention the long pauses at the couplets while we wait for the crowd to dissipate.
Robert Hofler, TheWrap’s lead theater critic, has served as an editor on Life, Us Weekly, and Variety. His books include “The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson”, “Party Animals” and “Sexplosion: From Andy Warhol to A Clockwork Orange, How a Generation of Pop Rebels Broke All the Taboos”. His latest book, “Money, Murder, and Dominick Dunne” is now in paperback.