My Kinda Town
Roommates, dreams of showbiz, and a dildo named Oscar
|Nothing Special Productions presents|
|My Kinda Town|
Review by J.H. Palmer
I’m fairly certain that Nothing Special Productions’ My Kinda Town is the only play currently in production that features a dildo the approximate length and girth of a full-sized bottle of vodka, has a name, and an acting credit. The last name in the cast list reads: Oscar…Himself. The playbill doesn’t make specific reference to a dildo, but Oscar makes his appearance (I’m assuming it’s a “he”) midway through Act I, when Tony Clifton (Joe Bianco) opens a package his mother, Maxine Clifton (Joanna Riopelle) sends him from Florida under the assumption that her son is gay, and that he needs a sex toy which, when not used in the manner intended, could double as a doorstop, a very effective paperweight, or stop cold air from coming in through a drafty window ledge.
Before we go any further it must be noted that the main character in this play is named Tony Clifton, with no apparent nod to Andy Kaufman, the late comic who based one of his best known characters on a Vegas lounge singer named Tony Clifton. In this piece Tony is not a lounge singer, he is an actor and singer playing the lead role in a musical titled My Kinda Town. He lives in an apartment with his composer roommate Drew Hamlin (Brian Davenport), who Tony berates for not having written anything new in six months. At first glance the setup evokes The Odd Couple – Tony’s neatnick behaviors and singing prowess set him up as the Felix to Drew’s sloppy, pajama-wearing Oscar. The roommates’ struggle to make it in the show business brings to mind moments from another roommate themed comedy: “Tootsie”, minus the cross-dressing and soap operas. Bianco’s presence and characterization is a cross between Ben Stiller circa “There’s Something About Mary” and Tony Randall as Felix Unger. He has a wiry energy, an earnest demeanor, and he gets a chance to show off his singing voice. Hamlin acts as the lymphatic foil to Bianco’s frenetic presence; he comes across as languid and unflappable, and has an easy way with the musical keyboard that is central to his character.
Maxine Clifton (Joanna Riopelle) brings an earnest, if misguided, maternal instinct to her performance; she is believable and WASP-ey although her actions are slightly over the top. She tries to coax her son out of the closet; despite the fact that he insists he’s not gay, and befriends Drew, confiding in him that the reason for her unannounced visit is that she and her husband have split up.
The play is set in Tony and Drew’s apartment, and the set, created by director Mikey Laird, evokes the feeling of being in someone’s home. Eric Holman-Opper plays the somewhat two-dimensional John McWilliams, Tony and Drew’s landlord, and Daniel Vuillaume and Lucy Hancock respectively play Spencer Goldman, Tony’s agent, and Rosie McWilliams, the landlord’s niece who is not-so-secretly in love with Drew. Spencer and Rosie become more interesting in Act II, when they break free of their expected personas of slimy agent and pathetic, cat-obsessed nerdgirl, and become an entertaining side story unto themselves. The storyline also becomes more interesting in Act II, when Drew’s motives for trying to keep Tony in Chicago rise to the surface.
This play is uneven, but it has some genuinely great moments. Act I clocks in at over an hour, and could use some judicious editing and some volume adjustment – towards the end of the act the actors start delivering their lines louder than necessary in order to impart a heightened sense of drama – one of my pet peeves. Act II runs barely 30 minutes, and ties things up in the proverbial neat little bow, but not without bringing a sense of satisfaction to the story. Some of my favorite moments in this play are in Act II. The Den Theatre is a great space for this piece; with its second floor walkup location and labyrinth of anterooms, it feels like you’re in someone’s apartment before the play even begins.
My Kinda Town continues through March 10th at The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee (map), with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm. Tickets are $15, and are available at BrownPaperTickets.com. More info at NothingSpecialProductions.com. (Running time: 2 hours, which includes one 10-minute intermission)
Joe Bianco, Brian Davenport, Lucy Hancock, Eric Holman-Opper, Joanna Riopelle, Daniel Vuillaume, Oscar
behind the scenes