Terry: Screaming queen and aging aspiring Broadway dancer (Keith Thompson).
Buck (Yes, he’s really called that): Hunky, few overtly “gay” mannerisms (Troy Turnipseed).
Alex: Sweet, sensitive, conflicted (Seth Ward Pyatt).
Matt: Musical theatre chorus boy on the road for most of the play (Antonio Rodriguez).
Roger: Married man with kid cruising (literally, because he meets Terry on the Staten Island Ferry and may be what passes for a joke here) but hooks up with him later (Devin Pryzgoda).
Marsha Hollander Parker directs, and she is a veteran of many college productions at Lindenwood. She directed the inaugural production for Citilites last summer, the far superior if still somewhat static Psychopathia Sexualis. Here, she is hampered by the Gaslight Theatre’s postage stamp-sized stage. Several actors plus a fully furnished room and a Christmas tree have to be accommodated and there is little space to move around. But that’s still not a good excuse for the actors just planting themselves and talking, except Terry who runs around like a Jack Russell Terrier on speed. It takes a while to figure out who lives with whom because when the play opens, it looks like Terry and Buck are a gay version of “The Odd Couple” (wait—is that redundant?) but eventually we learn the real roomies are Terry and the absent Matt whose room is currently being defiled by his husband, Alex, and lover, Buck. Complications ensue.
“Three’s Company” jokes abound, along with other sitcom, film and pop culture gay touchstones like Joan Crawford and Alexis Carrington (“Dynasty”), and I’m pretty sure we’re supposed to find the perpetually drunk, irresponsible Terry hilarious. He works as a waiter in a mob-run diner—that information is mildly important later—and though he is nearing 40, still goes out for auditions. The Staten Island location of the apartment generates several “jokes” and the first thing we see are Terry, in pajamas and robe, and Buck stringing popcorn for their holiday tree and arguing about the happy ending of “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.” While Buck is working his needle diligently, Terry is eating his popcorn instead, and the first sight gag of the play is his little string of 4 or 5 kernels. Alex, a department store Santa, comes in, frustrated from another day as the jolly old elf—the expected bad kiddy stories ensue—and Terry asks Alex to call into work for him the next morning and say his mother died. Later, Terry’s puzzled when floral arrangements arrive before the lie is exposed.
The early Jack Lemmon must have been in the playwright’s mind when he created Terry. He’s like a gay Ensign Pulver , or if Lemmon’s character in Some Like It Hot really did fall in love with Joe E. Brown, this is what he’d paper writing service be like. Then I started wondering whether many of Jack Lemmon’s frantic portrayals were gay coded, like Tony Randall’s. And . . . but wait. The fact that I was thinking about these things at all points to the central problem with The Crumple Zone: the show is boring. Buddy Thomas has written a bad play, simple as that. These generally good actors (and I’ve seen all of them do fine work in other productions) are trapped in a mess not of their own making, except for one area: They seem under-rehearsed. At times, it sounds like they just found out Tuesday that they were going to open Thursday in a play they hadn’t read yet. I don’t recall seeing another professional production with so many butchered lines.
On the other hand, maybe the weak showing on Friday night was not such a bad sign. Every cast fights its way through performances that just aren’t jelling. Good material and direction may help them hide it, but the actors don’t have those here. There are some funny lines, Thompson’s extended drunk scene on Christmas Eve has its moments, and these characters are mostly relatable; I mean, who hasn’t been lonely, unfaithful, dumped, unhappy in a relationship, or all of the above? But Thomas’s tendency to burden these guys with long, really long, speeches during which we, and from what I could hear, they, lose interest somewhere along the way, makes for a flat evening of theatre overall.