The sharp and original standup comedy of Barry Steiger triumphs over Julie Novak-McSweeney’s stiff and stilted one-act AIDS drama in these oddly paired pieces.
Steiger’s wit is dry and cutting, but with a healthy dose of truthful emotion. Born into a “hillbilly family from Kentucky” and ordained as a Southern Baptist minister at 18, Steiger has the kind of credentials that could make the Religious Right wince as he excoriates the hypocrisy of born-again Christian dogma on homosexuality.
But Steiger’s humor is only partly political, as he turns his rapier tongue on his own shortcomings as a politically correct gay man. “I hardly know any show tunes,” Steiger confesses.
Most tender and hilarious, however, are Steiger’s recollections of his childhood in Kentucky, when as a 9-year-old he was the only person in his extended family capable of correctly pronouncing the word “aluminum.”
Life has clearly improved in some ways for Steiger, who reports recent appearances on “Grace Under Fire” and a new romance with a boyfriend who is both a boxer and a hairdresser. With his dry wit, skillful delivery and refreshing point of view, Steiger should become an important voice on the comedy scene.
Unfortunately, Steiger here must follow a stale and melodramatic one-act drama by Novak-McSweeney, who trots out tired political cliches about gay rights without breathing any life into her characters.
Joe Stein (Paul Schackman), who has changed his name to Zephyr Fire, returns from San Francisco to visit his Aunt Totie (Teddy Vincent), the European Jewish refugee and dedicated Communist who raised him.
The play is 40 minutes of vague and wandering discussion about politics, family, Jewish identity and homosexuality. None of this goes anywhere and the audience learns very little about the characters beyond stereotype.
The predictable soap opera ending is dismal. Neither producer-director Jonathan Luria nor the actors seem able to bring this piece to life.