Originally published on Talkin’ Broadway.
If you’re looking for an opportunity to ponder the big questions of mankind’s relationship to the eternal in the presence of full frontal male nudity, you’re in luck. The Encore Theater Company has given us a bold and funny production of Paul Rudnick’sThe Most Fabulous Story Ever Told, now playing at the Plaza Black Box Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts. The play, originally produced in 1998, originated with Rudnick pondering the anti-gay slogan “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” What if, he wondered, God had started with Adam and Steve (Albert Chan and Jason Fenton) … and their lesbian friends Jane and Mabel (Christine Power and Robin Rapoport)?.
The Most Fabulous Story follows these four characters through a pageant of Old Testament situations from the ark to Egypt and beyond. The format provides a frame to not only parody Biblical stories and gay lifestyle quirks, but also to examine faith in an uncertain world. The second act finds these same characters – now stripped of their Biblical history – living in New York in 1998, dealing with issues of gay marriage, parenting, AIDS, and once again, faith in an uncertain world.
Director Christina Hanson’s biggest contribution to the show is casting four terrific leads. Chan provides emotional grounding as Adam, bringing believability to his struggles with love and faith even in such ridiculous situations as finding his lover cheating on him with a rhinoceros. Fenton has the least interesting part of the four, but makes the most of his role as the (pardon the expression) “straight man.” Power and Rapoport are hilarious as deadpan, butch Jane and kooky, sprightly Mabel. Most importantly, both couples convey believable and palpable love throughout the ups and downs of their relationships.
The supporting cast all take on multiple roles, and all get moments to shine. First among them is Carla Whittley, who as disabled lesbian Rabbi Sharon gets to deliver the climactic monologue towards the end of the show, and does so with aplomb.
Tying it all together is a theatrical metaphor, a stage manager (Kami Crary) making everything in the play happen by calling the cues. Unfortunately, Hanson lets Crary down by not having things happen when Crary calls cues. Too much either happens very slowly or is left up to the audience’s imagination entirely, effectively killing the pacing and magic of all the stage manager’s material. Since the show begins with the creation of the world – in the hands of the stage manager – this gets the play off to a very shaky start. (The pre-show announcements being delivered in an incredibly long-winded way by an incredibly un-funny man in an incredibly trashy-looking Biblical costume doesn’t help either.)
The physical production leaves a bit to be desired. Scenic Designers Kai Chao and Jason Tennis wisely chose not to overpopulate the tiny space with too much set, but the movable columns and boxes look community-theatre cheap, especially at the close range of the tiny theatre. Aaron Held’s lighting doesn’t get in the way, but misses out on opportunities to enhance the goings-on. Lisa Cahill and Eric Greimann’s costumes fare considerably better, from Jane’s fig leaf overalls to the gayest Santa outfit ever seen on stage.
While the show, at two and a half hours, feels a little too long and at times perhaps a little too preachy, it’s also hilarious enough to be forgiven. Though it may not be, as the title suggests, the most fabulous story every told, it’s definitely a fabulous story.
The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told through July 1 at the Boston Center for the Arts Plaza Black Box, 539 Tremont Street, Boston. Tickets ($19.50) are available online at www.bostontheatrescene.com, by phone 617-933-8600, and in person at the Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA Box Office, 527 Tremont Street, or the BU Theatre, 264 Huntington Ave.
Photo: Shannon Casey Splain