Opening night at Spirit Square last Thursday truly was a night of firsts. Finding the very last parking spot in the handy College Street lot for the Charlotte premiere of Paul Rudnick's The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told, we cruised past a dignified candlelight prayer vigil protesting the production. The sore point, affirmed by numerous posters displayed among the crowd, was Rudnick's depiction of the Virgin Mary -- nasty, heretical, and blasphemous in their eyes. Had those same eyes ever beheld the abominated script?
Probably not. But as Sue and I made our way from our car to the lobby, we were showered with a lusty chorus of Hail Marys — the first ever said over us — amid a sprinkling of Lord's Prayers. We could feel as fortunate as the dwellers in the House of the Lord, for not the slightest whisper of hate speech wafted our way.
Queen City Theatre Company artistic director Glenn T. Griffin remained understandably wary after withstanding a cyber-barrage of 20,000+ e-mails in recent weeks decrying the production, but the drama described in his malediction — patrons responsible for disruptive outbursts would face expulsion — never came to fruition. Fabulous!
So after a portentous prelude, we got what came for, some outlandish comedy as Rudnick skimmed through two Testaments in Act 1 and reconvened at a contemporary Christmas party/wedding officiated by a handicapped lesbian rabbi. Taking his cue from timeworn homophobic rhetoric, Rudnick propounds a lost text where Almighty God, after creating the heavens and the earth and all the creatures of the land, the sea, and the air, really does give his perfect Garden to Adam and Steve.
It isn't all slapstick as it turns out that the primordial paradise is also inhabited by lesbians Jane and Mabel, neither of whom is willing to cede seniority to the guys as the first humans. Needless to say, the whole "be fruitful and multiply" thing isn't mimicked in Rudnick's testaments: When Jane's water breaks late in Act 2, it's only the second completed pregnancy among the ancient foursome.
If you catch the echo of Our Town in the Stage Manager's cuing of creation and subsequent scene changes, you'll find a light dusting of solemnity — or divinity — there, Stephanie DiPaolo straddling those ambiguities with a sleek efficiency. A series of big questions recur, mostly from the questing Adam. Where did we come from? Is there a God? Why do bad things happen to good people? Still, it's a fairly light agenda befitting a lighthearted comedy that clocks in at 2:10, with such ethical questions as how should we act and what is our purpose left untouched.
Adam as ingénue isn't nearly as blasphemous as Virgin Mabel as lesbian (or closeted bisexual?!?), but Scott Miller isn't trying to close the gap as Adam, disarmingly natural even when he takes things to heart. Kristian Wedolowski, on the other hand, gets to mute his customary macho swagger somewhat as Steve, branching out into some genuinely dramatic moments as Adam's mate proves susceptible to mortality after nearly 5,800 years.
Rudnick strains a little harder to bestow substance on the women in his narrative. Mabel, after losing her second child, tells us of her crisis in faith after losing a child, a monologue that Karen Christensen managed to move me with, even though our virtuous Mabel never adheres to any specific religious precepts over the millennia. Meghan Lowther is usually funnier as Jane, the butchier lesbian, until she steps into the breach and gives birth to a possible messiah, capping her labors with a monologue that is, by turns, harrowing and hilarious.
The supporting cast, all playing multiple roles, frequently steal scenes from the principals. Leading culprits are Amanda Liles as the irreverently resilient Rabbi Sharon and Matt Kenyon as a flamingly gay Pharaoh (his cynical mall Santa is also a treat). Gayle Taggart's most memorable moments come as Fluffy, Adam's first indiscretion. Let's just say it gets crowded on the Ark. Steve James is Rhino, Steve's more outré choice as a paramour, before turning into Brad, Pharaoh's petulant, Moses-like pet, presumably before that wholesome Middle Eastern couple famously broke up.
Griffin may have misjudged the rabidity of his Christian adversaries outside Spirit Square, but he makes no missteps directing inside at Duke Energy Theatre. Tim Baxter-Ferguson's set design captures the lampooning tone of the evening to perfection, and Jamie Varnadore's costume designs add to the fun of Eden, Egypt, and Manhattan.
Queen City Theatre Company
The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told