Gay, straight, biâ€"& happily confused
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All sorts of lines get blurred in Everybody Here Says Hello!, an intriguingly different take on contemporary romance. This new play by Stuart Bousel also sets up its own dramatic rules, a potentially risky move but one that further enhances a story that knows when to wink at the audience and when to play it straight.
Actually, "straight" is a clouded word in a story that at first seems to have a gay relationship at its core before sending out tendrils into complex webs of sexual permutations. Happy and sad are always in close proximity, but Bousel finds ways to evoke laughs that always seem appropriate for the situations. Even the most quippish wisecracks ring true for the characters, who feel like fresh creations but are somehow still familiar.
Wily West Productions is presenting the premiere of Everybody Here Says Hello! in a rotating schedule with another new play, Superheroes, at Exit Theatre. On a simple unit set by Quinn J. Whitaker, director Rik Lopes' staging confidently grasps the untraditional structure of Bousel's play, and his appealing cast follows suit.
There are so many plot turns, subplots, locations, and double-cast characters that the script would very nearly need to be reprinted here to offer a true summary. Not that it's hard to follow; well, sometimes it is, and sometimes that seems to be on purpose. But a brief description of the opening scene can at least get the ball rolling. In this case, a baseball.
Aspiring actor Patrick (Nick Trengove) is watching his aspiring novelist boyfriend Byron (Dan Kuntz) play baseball with his straight jock friends. Also watching from the stands is Rebecca (Mikka Bonel), the squeeze-du-jour of hyper-macho Toro (Tony Cirimele). Handsome Patrick and acerbically sultry Rebecca sufficiently intrigue one another that Patrick changes his professed orientation from gay to bisexual. When Rebecca finds out that Patrick works as a drag performer between acting gigs, she marvels at her skills at flipping him. "I'm the most amazing heterosexual woman in the world," she exclaims.
Former lovers come into play, further upsetting dynamics that have already been shaken. At times, the characters step out of a scene to talk to the audience or even argue about who should be getting a shot at narration. "Why do you get to tell this story when you're hardly in this story?" complains Byron to Luke/Doug (Sam Tillis), who can change mid-scene from Byron's ex to Rebecca's ex. There are bar mitzvahs, weddings, literary agents, porn publishers, and a recalcitrant sister to contend with, and playwright and director smoothly weave this tale into a tight 90 minutes.
Cast members not yet acknowledged include Kat Bushnell, Sylvia Hathaway, and Wesley Cayabyab, and while the entire ensemble is sharply tuned into the material, it is Mikka Bonel's performance as Rebecca that gives the production its most driving force. When it's all over, you may not remember who finally ends up with whom, but Everybody Here Says Hello! is more about the bumpy but jaunty journey than the destination.
Everybody Here Says Hello! will run at Exit Theatre through Aug. 23. Tickets are $22-$25, available at wilywestproductions.com.