Last night, we went downtown to see Seth Tucker’s “Our Kiki, A Gay Farce.” This is Tucker’s first full-length play and his first go at directing a full production. I am happy to report that he has delivered a delightful mid-summer romp, perfectly illustrating the value of the New York International Fringe Festival (Aug 9-25, 2013, www.fringenyc.org) as a foot in the door for promising writers who, with continued luck, will deliver more and better.
“Our Kiki, A Gay Farce” (https://www.facebook.com/Ourkikitheplay) is full of laughs and fine performances. I didn’t at all mind that the premise—a gay couple’s need to involve a female friend in a sham wedding in order to secure a green card— is outdated given the recent fall of DOMA. Funny is funny, and I hope Mr. Tucker understands the value of this compliment when I say that he may, with repeated ups at bat, learn to knock his laughs out of the park just like the venerable Charles Busch in whose lineage he may find himself.
We are sometimes tempted to be dismissive of farce, thinking that it’s what writers deliver when they drink rather than think, but structuring a farce correctly ain’t easy. Tucker has the comic instincts needed to dole out the situations and the complications with smooth control. He hooks us happily into the craziness that results when a snow storm prolongs an immigration official’s visit to the apartment shared by the gay couple hoping to remain intact (via the green card) and their friends, a complicit straight couple. Tucker’s farce follows the classic formula so well that I fully expected the final moments to be delivered in rhyming couplets.
I particularly liked the scene in which the immigration officer is grilling the supposed straight couple about the details of their life together while the gay boyfriend (played by Tucker) stands hidden behind the sofa frantically doing charades to help Molly (his BFF pretending to be marrying his boyfriend Matt, and played deliciously by Brianna Lauren) give the right answers. An intricate and demanding bit very well executed by all involved.
The evening was not perfect. Too many good lines fell flat, not because of bad acting—the six member cast contained not a single weak link—but maybe because of insufficient scrutiny on the part of director Tucker who had more than enough to do as writer and lead actor. For instance, the characters George (the immigration officer played by Stuart Green) and Charlie (the taxi driver played by Larry Ray) seemed to exist in some inferior play despite the fact that the actors doing them seemed skilled and up to the task. More of their lines should have gotten laughs. Also, the hot straight guy, Andrés, played by magnetic Chris Costa—justifiably shirtless on occasion—made me wince by recoiling with exaggerated homophobic horror whenever his knee was touched by a lustful man. His overreaction was unrealistic given that he shares his daily life with gay men. The character needs a bit of tinkering in that regard. Tucker should even consider letting him flirt a bit more with his pursuer. Matt (the foreign half of the gay couple played by Peter Graham) receives repeated urging to “butch it up” in front of the immigration officer. This becomes tedious rather than funny. Also, repeated schtick in which someone scares someone by sneaking up behind him and screaming soon became annoying and ought to be dialed way back. None of these minor complaints derail the farce.
Throughout the evening, I kept wondering to what extent this kind of writing and performing is instinctive and cannot be taught. I suspect that Busch’s earliest works may also have been heavier on promise than delivery, and I made a plan to review some video of those early performances to appreciate how a talent like Charles Busch or Seth Tucker gets his stride, makes his words more dazzling and his players increasingly airborne, and learns to wring bigger and more frequent laughs from his audience.
I’m glad I saw the funny “Our Kiki, A Gay Farce” and I am eager to see what Seth Tucker does next.