Friday, February 10, 2012

Whither "wandas" the gay play?

I suppose David Valdes Greenwood's Wandaleria (through this weekend at the Boston Playwrights' Theatre, presented by Argos Productions) technically isn't a "gay play" - everybody in it is straight - but it feels like a gay play in drag just the same.  Its heroine, Wanda (full name: Wanda Mae Pretty), is simultaneously sweet, pathetic, and ridiculous; she's a kind of taste-challenged loser/shut-in (at left) who lives a life of quiet desperation through various fantasies and pen pals - one of whom (a convict who seems even sweeter than Wanda) manages to break out of the Big House and then threatens to turn up on her doorstep in the flesh, much to the chagrin of her roommates and misfit pals - not to mention her fantasy friends.

Sound familiar?  I'm afraid it does; far too familiar, in fact.  Valdes Greenwood manages a few unusual variations on his second-hand themes (the object of Wanda's fantasies turns out to be something of a fantasist himself), but none of his gambits are striking enough to make us forget that the freshness date on this basic set-up is something like 2003.

Not that anyone in the cast seems to have noticed; they carry on as if they're in some kind of Off-Off-Broadway time warp.  In fact the Argos production is generally quite strong, and within fringe budgetary limits, everything looks about as it should.  (That's part of the problem, though; we already know how every moment should look and play in this show.)  Kate deLima (above left) makes a natural and appealing Wanda, and Peter Brown is a believably sensitive (ex?) con.  There's sharp work around the edges of the production by Craig Houk and Terrence Haddad as two of Wanda's most persistent fantasies, although the usually-reliable Shelley Brown can't always make us forget the thin excuses Valdes Greenwood provides for her character's behavior.  The find of the show, however, is young Caitlyn Conley, who as Wanda's quirky buddy isn't merely lovely but also shows signs of perhaps being a gifted comedienne.

These folks keep you caring - but not so much about their characters as about them, themselves, as in - why can't these talented actors find better gigs?  Oh, well.  Director Brett Marks keeps things moving smoothly, and I applaud him for putting together such a solid cast - I'm just beginning to question his taste in projects!  This is certainly better than one of his previous discoveries - the notorious Cherry Smoke -  so maybe things are looking up for this particular local director.  I certainly hope so.  As for David Valdes Greenwood - well, Wandaleria is a pretty good "apprentice" play - it shows this author can paint in the numbers on a pre-existing grid.  But now it's time to break out on his own, with a fresh canvas.

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