To celebrate its 10th anniversary, the Fresh Fruit Festival is bringing back some of its past successes as well as producing new work. Manual Igrejas' Miss Mary Dugan was apparently seen first in the 2009 edition. A 45-minute one-act about a lonely middle-aged gay man stuck in the suburbs of New Jersey and the hunk next door on whom he has a crush, it's a slight but charming metatheatrical diversion featuring two winning performances.
Romeo Tyrone Pendleberry was born and raised in Cedar Chips, N.J., where he still lives. He has a good job, a nice home, and lots of gay friends, most of them partnered. He's a fabulous cook, an old-movie buff (his self-imposed titular nickname comes from a 1929 Norma Shearer flick), and throws great parties. But a relationship has eluded him. One day he strikes up a conversation with the boy next door, handsome Kevin Pecinka, the 20-something son of two undertakers. Kevin keeps the books for the family business and cruises the bars for a lot of sex but is otherwise awfully blank, with little experience of life and no friends. Ty (as he prefers to be called) cooks him dinner, educates him in the cinema, and introduces him to his social set, whose members pass Kevin about with happy sexual abandon. When the elder Pecinkas retire to Florida, Ty lets the unemployed lad move into his basement. Will friendship blossom into something more?
Igrejas breaks the fourth wall, having Ty speak directly to and even see the audience. But Ty is surprised when Kevin tells him that he can hear what he's saying (which is generally about Kevin, of course) to theatergoers. He can't see them though. These teasing devices keep us wondering: Is Kevin real? Or is Ty creating him out of his loneliness? It's an interesting question that Igrejas never definitively resolves (I lean toward the creation side) but probably should.
The terrific actor Bryan Webster-so good in Passing Ceremonies and Whore Works in previous Fruit fests-is a buoyant delight as Ty from the moment he enters, dancing on backward and shaking his booty at us. Webster astutely gives Ty a touch of formality and a courtly remove that suggest why he's never bonded long with any lover. Craig Fox is one as Kevin, who's also attractive in his eagerness to learn and the puppyish pleasure he displays in doing so. Fox's portrait is full of sly humor, and the men share abundant chemistry, making the most out of a hilarious and sexy sequence in which Ty tries to teach Kevin how to dance.
Karin de la Penha-an actor who did fine work in Igrejas' Hassan & Sylvia in the 2010 festival-directs with subtlety and speed. My biggest quibble is simply that I wanted to spend more time with these two men.
Self-presented as part of the Fresh Fruit Festival at the Wild Project, 195 E. Third St., NYC. July 19-28. Remaining performances: Sat., July 21, 6 p.m.; Wed., July 25, 8 p.m.; Sat., July 28, 4 p.m. (212) 352-3101, (866) 811-4111, www.theatermania.com, or www.freshfruitfestival.com.
Theatre Reviews Limited
Miss Mary Dugan
By Manuel Igrejas
Directed by Karin de la Penha
At The Wild Project
Reviewed by David Roberts and Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited
Manuel Igrejas teases the audience with an intimate glimpse into the life of Miss Mary Dugan (Bryan Webster) who rules the gay social circuit in Cedar Chips, New Jersey. He dazzles his subjects with outrageous epicurean events where the only thing missing is someone by his side. The lonely, awkward, unpolished (and mysterious) boy next door might be the ingredient he has been searching for to make the recipe of his life complete.
The son of the undertakers next door to Mary Dugan challenges his comfortable life of de-spotting his flatware and ogling the hunky and straight UPS driver. Kevin Pecinka (Craig Fox) rattles Mary and makes his crab cakes no longer the tastiest item on his menu. Having depended on fantasy, delusion, and vodka for sustenance, Dugan's diet and demeanor promises to improve after meeting this boy next door. Or do they ever meet?
Assuming Mary (aka Ty Pendelberry) actually meets Kevin, they struggle with the fantasy each has of the other. Is Miss Mary too afraid to assume a younger man could truly love him? Would he do something inappropriate? Is Kevin too afraid to assume an older man could man could truly love him? Would he do something inappropriate? These fantasies merge into a new reality in which Miss Mary and Kevin share a life in Miss Mary's house sharing their resources to make a family.
It is possible, however, that everything the audience sees on stage is in Miss Mary Dugan's mind, that it is all a rehearsal of his fantasy. Certainly there are directorial and lighting conventions that suggest this possibility. But whether reality or fantasy (and how do these in essence really differ?) the story Miss Mary spins is compelling and life-affirming. Playwright Igrejas and director conspire to stage Miss Mary Dugan with delicious ambiguity. Whether reality or fantasy, Mary and Kevin's story counterpoints with the fantasy of each audience member and his/her desire for unconditional and non-judgmental love.
Bryan Webster's Mary Dugan and Craig Fox's Kevin bring Igrejas's script to life with a brilliance and grace that might compel the audience member to buy a condo in Cedar Chips on the other side of the Pecinka Funeral Home just to chill with Mary and Kevin. These two actors know how to ply their craft and create rich, honest, multi-dimensional characters.
The playwright and director succeed in portraying the struggle of gay life without falling into stereotypes that plague so many gay-themed (or other) productions. Their Miss Mary Duganattacks an authentic situation and is able to reveal the universal pitfalls of insecurity and promiscuity only to move on to matters of the heart. To the mix add two brilliant performances that bring these two characters to life, moving the audience to the level of heartfelt hope for a cathartic and redemptive ending.
This production has the perfect mix of humor, insight, and understanding, producing flawless great gay theatre. The one fault is that when leaving the theatre these critics already missed our new found friends and could only wish we could return for a second act. But, for now, Miss Mary Dugan and Kevin Pecinka will live in our hearts.
MISS MARY DUGAN
By Manuel Igrejas. Directed by Karin de la Penha. Stage Management and Sound Design by Natalie Qing Zhang.
CAST: Bryan Webster (Mary Dugan) and Craig Fox (Kevin Pecinka).
Presented by Fresh Fruit: The International Festival of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Arts & Culture. At The Wild Project, 195 East 3rd Street (between Avenues A and B), New York, New York, NY. Remaining performances are on Wednesday, July 25 at 8 p.m. and Saturday, July 28 at 4 p.m. Tickets are $18.00 and can be purchased online at www.freshfruitfestival.com.