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SCENE AND HEARD
by Randy Gener
Left to Right: Angel Desai, Rodney To, and Megan Johnson Briones in "This End Up"
"This End Up (A User's Manual for Lovers of Asians)"
A new cabaret written and directed by Ralph B. Pena
Ma-Yi Theater Company
La MaMa ETC (The Club) 74A East Fourth Street ~ New York, NY 10003
Box Office (212) 475-7710 ~ www.lamama.org
May 30 to June 16 (Closed)
It was a grand night for Asian American singing at The Club at La MaMA ETC, where "This End Up (A User's Manual for Lovers of Asians)," recently had a successful extended run. This new musical revue by Ralph B. Pena took a pleasing dip into the Broadway songbook and made a happy, dizzy splash. The pool of Asian-American talents included Rodney To, Virginia Wing and Angel Desai, stirring in some white-bread tastiness courtesy of John Wernke and Megan Johnson Briones.
Skillfully and delightfully, Pena weaves such soulful and old-fashioned songs as "I Fall in Love Too Easily," "Let's Get Lost," "Bewitched," "Let's Get Away From It All" and "Two for the Road" into a soapy satire about love, lust, and sexual fetish. His ostensible subject is the nuttiness of erotic fixations: the fag-hag who thinks she can make an ideal sexual partner out of a gay man, the middle-aged former nun who gets hot and bothered with guys who look like biblical characters, the young girl who dates only older men who teach literary classics in the English department, and the bisexual jock from Ohio who dates both a smooth-skinned Asian gay man and his equally petite sister.
Full disclosure: Pena is a friend of mine. As a rule, I try not to review the theatrical work of friends. But it would be a shame not to make a note of Pena's extravagant gifts as a dramatist of impish comedy. Spritzy, juicy, wickedly funny, "This End Up" tosses off sarcastic quips, pop culture references and dishy lines with breezy effortlessness. Even when tackling familiar territory (such as the misadventures of a faghag, or two guys lusting after each other as they shower in a gym), there is a good deal of craft and smarts at work here. Pena knows how to squeeze fresh comedy out of predictable plots and stereotypes.
The evening proceeds as a series of scenes among the five characters, often deliberately withholding crucial plot information for maximum farcical effect. For instance, a scene in which a gay man pinpricks a woman friend for her fetish for "literary geriatrics," calling her "the Gong Li of the college," in retrospect, proves to be filled with unexpected depth when we later find out that the two are brother and sister.
Like Neil Simon, Paul Rudnick, or Terence McNally, Pena knows how to detonate brilliant one-liners and nasty observations. "If the brain is a computer," one character observes, "your computer just happens to be running DOS." The late night flight of Asian gay men from an Asian-friendly bar is wickedly likened to "the fall of Saigon"-"Everyone is trying to catch the white ride out."
Ma-Yi Theatre's "This End Up" is best when it simply moves into monologue form. One particular character, Elena, the ex-nun with a bible fetish, is perhaps the evening's most accomplish creation. As embodied by the superb
Virginia Wing, Elena's story could probably easily subsist as a one-person performance piece, so incisively funny are her lines, so poignant is her portrayal, and so utterly winning.
The evening should also be commended for its singing. Angel Desai as Jenny is simply too marvelous for words, and Rodney To might be in the running for the bitchy-funny mantle that Alec Mapa left behind when he moved to Los
Angeles. Megan Johnson Briones salvages, through sheer force of personality, the character of the faghag Bunny, which could have easily been quite disastrously clichéd. As for the talented and fresh-faced John Wernke, who
plays the bisexual jock who ends up being dumped by brother-and-sister duo, well, let's just say that he can float my postcolonial boat anytime he so desires. [Gener]
Randy Gener is critic-at-large and a founding writer of The New York Theatre Wire. He also writes for The New York Times, The Star Ledger and American Theatre Magazine. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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