BWW Review: Terrific New Theatre has a key to the Comedy Townhouse in THE TRIBUTE ARTIST
To kick off it's 32nd season, Terrific New Theatre has a property you are gonna love. The Tribute Artist by Charles Busch is a four-story comedy townhouse in New York. Forget about that Klondike bar, what would you do for a prime piece of Manhattan real estate? Adriana (Jennifer Price) is an ailing grand dame socialite of the upper west side. Years ago her palatial Manhattan townhouse hosted exquisite parties with dignitaries. The only guest now is her out of work friend Jimmy Nichols, (Barry Austin) a female impersonator whose stage presence caliente is more LaQuinta than Las Vegas. He's jobless due to the failing interest in his labored repertoire of impersonating classic film stars like Katherine Hepburn and Mae West. The industry kicked him to the curb, saying bye-bye Bettie Davis and hello Beyoncé. Jimmy has found Adriana's grace to be a welcomed arrangement for he enjoys her company, hospitality and access to her extensive wardrobe. Rounding out this trio is Jimmy's tag along friend Rita (Nancy McLemore), a struggling lesbian and real estate agent with the savvy of Ethel Mertz. Opportunity intervenes when Adriana dies in her sleep. Her untimely passing inspires Jimmy and Rita to concoct a hair-brained scheme. Jimmy will put his female impersonation skills to the test and pretend to be Adriana so Rita can sell the townhouse and split the dough. What could go wrong right?
Without giving too much of the plot away, they get the rug pulled from under them when Adriana's soured niece Christina (Brooke Wood) and her teenage trans son Rachel/Oliver (Kat Love) arrive from Milwaukee to contest Adriana selling the penthouse. More conflict arrives when Adriana's long lost lover Randy (Shawn Reese) shows up. He's got a past and more than his share of issues. The story moves easily due to a simple comedy structure of a classic 40's comedy. Silly situations, gender bending, zingy one-liners and fluctuating sexual tensions are staples in Charles Busch's writing. One of the best lines is from Adriana; "It's just fascinating how that boa looked expensive until you put it on". The story is a fun ride that finds humor in the oddest of places.
Jennifer Price delivers Adriana with a graceful continental demeanor. Her smooth voice flows in tandem with the silk caftan she wears. Barry Austin provides Jimmy with sincerity and sparkle of a full out Diva. His impressions and commitment to physical comedy are strong. Nancy McLemore gives Rita a brash and loveable smarminess. Brooke Wood brings Christina a sharp comedic delivery and emotional relatability in her performance. Kat Love shines with a compelling and endearing performance of Rachel/Oliver.
The natural chemistry between Wood and Love is a highlight. They convey real emotions and give much credit to the great writing. Shawn Reese gives Rodney a wide range of dynamics and moods. His comically dramatic soliloquies ring with a cadence of farces like Police Squad. Bethe Ensey's direction took care in maintaining comedy beats reminiscent of those old comedies. Kudos goes to set designers Kenneth Patterson and Kevin Thomas. The set of Adriana's home is character in itself due to the attention to detail and vibrant design.
The Tribute Artist is a snappy comedy with memorable dialogue and characters. Make sure you see it before someone makes a better bid on your seat.
Terrific New Theatre Presents : The Tribute Artist
Written by Charles Busch / Directed by Bethe Ensey
Jennifer Price - Adriana
Barry Austin - Jimmy
Nancy McLemore -.Rita
Shawn Reese - Rodney
Brooke Wood - Christina
Kat Love - Rachel/Oliver
Sept 14 - Oct 7 Thurs/Fri/Sat - 8pm . Sunday Matinees - 9/24 & 10/1 - 2pm
Terrific New Theatre - 2821 2nd Ave S. (at Pepper Place) Birmingham, AL
For tickets and more info: terrificnewtheatre.com or (205) 328-0868