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They say it's the Year of the Woman, and, according to Professor Marjorie Garber, "Woman" can apply to a men dressed up as a woman. Or even a man dressed up as a woman dressed up as a man dressed up as a woman. And it's the "women" who steal the show in the Hasty Pudding's 145th production.
A sort of Hamlet with the roles reversed, this year's show pays homage to powerful women and sensitive men by going easy on the Wellesley jokes and tough on "the lech" in the lead.
Like the tabloid TV programs that its plot parodies, this year's Pudding show (as usual) tries to pull its jokes and puns from today's headlines. Sometimes writers Nell Benjamin and the brothers O'Keefe (Laurence and Mark) try a little too hard. But the performances, directed by Greg Minahan, couldn't be better. Overall, "Romancing the Throne" left us chairing for more. (Okay, we tried. We'll stop now.)
Benjamin and the O'Keefes weave the typical convoluted plot around a medieval kingdom ruled King-James Version (Jon Murad). His daughter, Princess Diana Loneliness (Bart St. Clair) comes home from a "fairy" college (Puck U.) to find that her mother, Queen Anne Sober, has mysteriously died.
For his new bride, the lascivious king has chosen Anne's sexy (if dim-witted) sister, the new Queen Morgana Prettiface (Adam Feldman). "What Ho!" declares the valiant Princess Diana, who sports a leather Hamlet-style mini-skirt. "Oh, that ho," she says when she sees Prettiface.
In a fit of religious disillusionment, the king declares that he is unworthy to rule and will pass the throne to his daughter when she finds an acceptable husband.
The grand competition for Diana's hand begins--much to the dismay of the princess, who wants to find a mate on her own. Who cares about big palaces and yachts if your husband is a terrible bore?
In her royal ditsiness, the new queen wants to pave over the Enchanted Woodyou-bemyneighbor to make room for the Fairest of the Mall. Prettiface's plan angers King Oberon Yourleft (Chip Rosetti), a tree-hugging Shakespearean sprite with magical powers. Hence, political subtext #1.
Prettiface has more devious plans in mind, however. Behind her vapid facade and over-stuffed brassiere lurks a scheming mind and evil intentions. She soon confesses to her grumpy (but hilarious) Jester Gigolo (John Berman) that she actually killed her sister so she could rule the kingdom.
The new queen conspires to fix the suitor competition so that Diana will pick Sir Galahad Lastnight (Skip Sneeringer), a notorious (and rather rotund) womanizer. Galahad agrees to marry Diana and kill her on their wedding night. That way no one will stand between Prettiface and the throne.
At first Galahad is reluctant; he says he doesn't know if he has the Gual to divide Diana in two parts.
But Prettiface won't let up. She eventually convinces him to do the deed, by promising she'll do a few deeds for him.
Then Beauluc, Duke of Hazarde (Steven Lucado) appears out of nowhere (literally). Diana is certain to fall for this Nordic-looking hunk of inbred manhood in tights. And so the plot thickens, as does Beauluc's strained Southern accent.
A mysterious prophetess, Crone Accustomed Toherface (Jeremy Nye) warns the kingdom (in appropriate iambic pentameter) that evil lies ahead. But the king, who has inexplicably become a Hindu, pays no heed. (The Pudding show can be awfully random.)
Morgana has one problem--she must get Diana to marry Galahad. With the help of a dragon, she concocts a love potion--"Number 9...0210"--that transforms Diana into a randy teen nightmare, throwing herself onto like, that big hunk, like, Galahad.
Well, some other weird and generally unexplained things happen (including a bizarre and totally extraneous scene in which all the characters run around madly while a strobe light flashes).
Basically, the rest of plot revolves around breaking the 90210 spell (which makes for some of the show's funniest scenes) and bringing Beauluc and Diana together.
As usual, some of the best characters have little to do with the plot. Brian Martin does a terrific job as Tess Pattern, a wovewy journalist with a speech impediment. She and Tab Lloyd (Andrew Howard), a 15th-century Geraldo Rivera-Maury Povich type, dig away at the sleazy side of the kingdom, threatening to broadcast everyone's dirty laundry. (Political Subtext #2.)
Mark Fish does a fine job as Miranda Warning, a spike-elbowed dominatrix who protects the king from (most) of Prettiface's assassins.
But Warning's character is too often used as a vehicle for political satire. Her jokes about being "out of the loop" or her complaints about a "revolving door prison system" fall flat.
In fact, the authors use a repertoire of hackneyed Bush jokes that seem stale four months after the campaign. (Political Subtext #3.)
The writers also "throw a wench in the works, perhaps only so they can use that pun. Jason Cooper provides an energetic performance as Marion Haste, whose Brooklyn accent sometimes becomes Long Island (we thought she was supposed to be Amy Fisher for a while) and sometimes disappears altogether. Haste is one of Lasnight's previous nights, and now she's pregnant. She writes a kiss and-tell "scroll" and tries to convince Diana that Lastnight is scum. (Political Subtext #4.)
Haste eventually fails for one of Diana's suitors, Baron Waste, a Scottish officer whose role in the plot is never quite clear. Haste and Waste finally get together in a long dungeon scene, the most tedious of the show.
Another one-joke character is Liza Roundhall-Day (Tom Giordano), Diana's nurse. Giordano's wispy voice is perfect for his character. But Roundhall-Day's narcolepsy grows tiresome after the 47th time we see her drop off to sleep in mid-sentence.
And Dragon His Feet (Mark Baskin) is stolen unabashedly from Stuart Smalley, the Alan S. Franken '73 character on Saturday Night Live, Baskin is excellent as the co-dependent lizard, the "self-help salamander." His song, "Stop Dragon Your Heart Around," is fun, albeit a little long.
By far the star of "Romancing the Throne" is Bart St. Clair. His "save the Last Prince for Me," is an acrobatic show stopper. The audience stomps along to the bouncy show-tune, while St. Clair gyrates in a hot pink leotard and spike heels.
(Apparently after Chevy Chase saw the show, he commented that St. Clair had a really bright future. We're not sure how Chase would know, but he's right.)
But St. Clair doesn't have to carry the show alone. Titanic (Adam Geyer), Oberon's lustful wife (there are just a few too many wanton characters sleazing around the stage this year), delivers a magnificent torch long performance in her milky Daerie Queen outfit. Geyer's delivery almost hides the fact that the song is much too maudlin for the Pudding. Almost.
The shining supporting character is Berman's jester, who remains consistently dour throughout the play. He's a child star gone bad, and he has stooped to spying for Prettiface with all the bitterness of Danny Bonnaducci on "Oprah."
When the plot is finally resolved (happily ever after, of course) you may be more confused that ever. But by this time, you won't care who's alive and who's married to whom. You'll be laughing too hard at the big finish to realize that the plot has actually been resolved.
This year's kickline makes for a rollicking finale. Removable petticoats on the costumes are an ingenious invention, especially for the portly Galahad.
Overall, the plot could have used fewer politics and fewer twists in general. Two and a half hours of puns can drag on a bit. And some of the more obvious jokes (such as using "and a partridge in a pear tree" at the end of a list) should have been chopped out altogether.
Still, some of the writing is just plain brilliant. In one scene, Oberon and Titania exchange some witty cereal puns: "Let's just be Frankenberry the hatchet," "Honey Comb home, (Although the tag-line--"Oh, Nut 'n' Honey"--is predictable.)
As always, the other elements of the Pudding show are as professional as they can be. The Pudding knows how to put together a good student production--with some help from veterans in the drama business. (With $300,000 to spend, who wouldn't?)
Edwin Outwater's score carries the show well. He blends kitsch-TV sounds (the Walt Disney theme, that "cachung" sound from "A Current Affair") with strong composing.
The pricy professionals in charge of scenery, choreography, costuming and technical support enhance the show, especially support enhance the show, especially during the kickline when all of the elements fit together perfectly and none of the characters loses his plastic boobs.
The show is especially worth seeing on the $5 student night--but this year, the discount night was poorly scheduled for the second night of the run.
Unfortunately, greedy Class of '93 officials bought out the original student night (March 4) at $5 a head, and are now peddling tickets at $8 each. So if you're an underclass student, you're stuck with the $20 general admission fare--unless you have a friend in the Pudding who'll let you usher.
"It's worth finding a way in somehow. The $20 will seem like small change when a lumbering man in drag kisses you in the aisle.
John A. Cloud '93 and Beth L. Pinsker '93 were editorial chairs of The Crimson in 1992.
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