THEATER REVIEW : 'Stormy Monday' an Alternative History Lesson
July 23, 1993|JAN BRESLAUER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES
What's race got to do with it? Ask Charles Lane and Alan Pulner, whose richly eclectic performance piece "Stormy Monday," at the Burbage, takes on that question and more, when a GWM meets a GBM in an all-night Laundromat.
The dramatic setup may be a pickup, but this two-man choreopoem, sharply directed by Joyce Guy, turns out to be much more than another soap opera about the woes of '90s dating. What starts out with a sexy sheet-folding scene, as the heroes' libidos meet over the corners of a cotton flowered print, quickly jumps into a much less mundane realm populated by a host of cultural icons.
With a text drawn largely from interviews and other documentary texts, "Stormy Monday" cruises the collective unconscious of the gay Jewish and the gay African-American male, bringing to the stage figures as various as Dorothy Dandridge, civil rights organizer Bayard Rustin and a nameless young man subjected to electroshock therapy back in the days when the medical establishment was still trying to "cure" patients of homosexuality.
The versatile Pulner and Lane become these personas of history and art, and their often over-the-top portrayals are consistently beguiling. Lane, who normally sings with the Los Angeles Music Center Opera Chorus and the LA Master Chorale, is especially inspired when he prances around in full drag-diva glory. But the charade is particularly poignant because he seamlessly segues back to a character who's full of masculine anger the next moment.
Similarly, Pulner has some of his best interludes when he plays the comic foil, caught between an obvious delight in the frivolities of camp impersonation and the Angst that lies beneath the shtick. He is the classic sad-funny clown reminiscent of both gay and Jewish archetypes.
"Stormy Monday" is an inspiring alternative history lesson. But as a dramatic work, the piece is at its strongest when the performer-writers stray furthest from their ostensible two-guys-meet-in-a-Laundromat premise.
For all its considerable riches, including Pulner and Lane's charismatic performances and the striking array of underexamined characters and experiences from decades past, "Stormy Monday" still needs some shaping. The historical material is never adequately integrated with the contemporary plot, and the piece gets bogged down in exposition.
"Stormy Monday" also stops short of following through on its own dramatic impulses. The riffs aren't pushed as far as they could go, and the plot is more of a boundary than an enabling device.
As is though, "Stormy Monday" is light-years beyond the self-centered whining of much contemporary performance art. But with potential like this, Pulner and Lane ought to make their relevant work the tempest it begs to be.
* "Stormy Monday," Burbage Theatre Ensemble, 2330 Sawtelle Blvd., West L.A., Saturdays, 9:15 p.m., Sundays 7 p.m. Ends Aug. 15. $10-$12. (310) 478-0897. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.