The jokes and laughs come fast and furiously throughout most of Paul Rudnick’s witty “The New Century,” which has its Sarasota premiere Backstage at the Players Theatre.
Rudnick, the author of the hits “I Hate Hamlet” and “Jeffrey,” among many others, has a wicked sense of irony and a facile way of having his characters express their thoughts and feelings. Even though you know they’re delivering what amounts to one-liners, they don’t feel that way in the engaging production directed by Kaylene McCaw and Jeffery Kin.
All those one-liners, however, take you only so far. You may still be laughing before realizing that the story doesn’t add up to a lot.
“The New Century” is a collection of four one-act plays, essentially monologues about three distinct characters who combine to make this one of the gayest plays Sarasota has seen.
Donna DeFant is headstrong and determined in the first scene, “Pride and Joy,” as Helene Nadler, who pats herself on the back for being “the most loving, accepting and tolerant mother of all time.” That’s because all three of her children have come out as gay, with two of them throwing in extra twists to force her to be even more understanding.
In most cases, she knew before the kids did. “Helen Keller would know you’re a lesbian from the stubble on your head,” she tells her daughter.
Helene shares her story at a support group for parents of gay, lesbian and transgender children (with a few other categories thrown in for good humor.) She is a proud woman who serves as our entree into Rudnick’s funny take on the world, and the crazy fun of the second scene, “Mr. Charles, Currently of Palm Beach.”
Mr. Charles is the host of a cable access called “Too Gay,” the very reason he says that he was voted out of New York City.
Mr. Charles is played with exaggerated flamboyance by Bob Trisolini, heightening every effeminate stereotype that has ever been ascribed to gay men. His shoes, hair, gestures, eye rolls, all scream camp, and Trisolini plays it to the hilt as he answers viewer questions about homosexuality, with help from his dim-witted but sweet-natured assistant, Shane, played by Justin Irwin.
The third scene “Crafty,” features Laura Sommer Raines as Barbara, a woman who spends her days crafting everything from sock puppets to figurines. But her life has felt a bit empty since the death of her son to AIDS years ago. It’s meant as the most poignant scene, a chance to provide some heart to the play, but the writing is a bit heavy-handed.
In the end, Rudnick brings all three together in a maternity ward, where they gurgle and coo over the newborns and find some rejuvenation for themselves. Shane, of course, has a different perspective. Shopping is his cure for the blues.
That may work for some people, but the laughter Rudnick’s stories create is probably a healthier fix to whatever is troubling you. And the intimate surroundings of the Backstage space are a comfortable fit for “The New Century.”
THE NEW CENTURY
By Paul Rudnick. Directed by Kaylene McCaw and Jeffery Kin. Reviewed Nov. 14, Backstage at the Players Theatre, 838 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Tickets are $15. Through Nov. 24. 365-2494; theplayers.org