You Should Be So Luckyby Charles Busch. Directed by Phil Rice. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
Daniel Dunlow, Stephen Powell, Jamie Bock; photo provided
Literally stranger than breath. . ."
John Trainor and Daniel Dunlow; photo provided
Saturday, June 28 was my two cross-dressing Charleses play date. In the evening I saw Charles Ludlam's "The Mystery of Irma Vep" from 1984 and in the afternoon I watched Charles Busch's "You Should Be So Lucky" from 1994. In the original version Busch played Christopher, a young, gay electrologist whose kindness to an elderly man who faints in the street results in his becoming heir to a fortune. Only a few years later Busch would go on to play the female roles in his best plays making him the heir to Ludlam's rich heritage of roles. He even played Auntie Mame in 1998 in a benefit for AIDS research, a role he reprised in 2003 opposite Marian Seldes, Lucie Arnaz, Cris Alexander, Swoosie Kurtz and Valerie Harper.
"You Should Be So Lucky" was a hit, of sorts, running for three months off-Broadway. Ben Brantley of the New York Times called it "An outlandish and magical tale of transformation." On the summer stage of the Theater Barn in New lebanon, New York it is just that once again. Under the deft hand of director Phil Rice a different sort of transformation takes place as actress Jamie Bock, playing Christopher's sister Polly, an actress without a career, a woman without a mate, becomes a fine representation of the women Charles Busch created and more often than not played himself. Watching this young actress become consumed with the vocal strains and physical mannerisms of the best of Busch is a hilarious way to spend a few hours. It is a tribute to the playwright and the director that Bock does not become the single dominant figure on stage. The play still belongs to Christopher Ladendorf and to the man who plays him at the Barn.
Daniel Dunlow runs the gamut in the role of Christopher, a young man whose luck has been mostly bad, whose life for the previous twelve years has brought little reward in his profession, his love life, his acquisitions or his accumulated sheckels. Dunlow plays the more pathetic aspects of Christopher with a sweet simplicity and a sense of acceptance that makes him immediately appealing to an audience. As Christopher becomes more accessible to both the real and the unreal worlds around him, Dunlow's internal diversity becomes apparent through the broad range of physical and vocal attitudes he needs to play. A man possessed he is a stage holder of the first order. This is a performance to see and to cherish.
Playing his new lover, Walter, is Stephen Powell, an actor who can hold his own against Dunlow's excesses. Powell brings a rubber-boned grace to the role, his body and face changing shape and form constantly as he finds himself in charge of things, then lost in space, then instantly confused and confounded by what is happening around him. It is a very funny performance with moving moments thrown in for good measure.
Jamie Bock is the most manly beauty on the stage. A quintessential Busch heroine Polly is relegated to second place in this play, which may explain why Busch chose not to play her. Bock is very funny, very pretty, very vocally the man in the Ladendorf family - aggresive and direct and a contralto at best. We are left wondering who and what the actress actually is and sounds like and she must be applauded for her own wonderful work in this odd role.
John Trainor takes on the central, if ghostly, role of Mr. Rosenberg, the man whose faint heart is central to the plot of this play. Trainor is wonderful here. He plays the soul of humanity, misunderstood by family and friends, but genuinely interested in the well-being of a man whose own soul is somewhat tortured by his own tragic history. Trainor's Rosenberg is a wholly empathetic character and it is that specific quality, one that Trainor portrays in softening looks and gentle gestures, that brings him success in the part.
Erin Waterhouse is an effective, if bitchy, daughter after her inheritance and Elizabeth C.J. Roberts makes a divine Wanda Wang, TV talk-show hostess.
This is a very funny play given an almost ideal production on the set designed by Abe Phelps, with hilarious period costumes by Logane Robinson. Allen E. Phelps lighting does its work magically, providing each scene's tranformations with the proper ambience.
Phil Rice has served up a Busch-el of fun with this play and gotten the Theater Barn's 31st season off to a perfect start.
You Should Be So Lucky plays at the Theater Barn, 654 Route 20, New Lebanon, NY through July 6. For information and tickets call the box office at 518-794-8989 or go on line to www.theaterbarn.com.