'Hood Winks

Crisp's theme for the evening -- as the tilt of the hat and the perfect scarf and pin should make obvious -- is the attainment and use of style. It is style, and only style -- Crisp takes special pleasure in noting -- that has brought him from New York City to St. Louis with his fare paid. He holds up as paradigms of style Joan Crawford and Bette Davis ("I remember when she was a nice girl") as they evolved from actresses playing roles to stars who filled the screen with their being.

Style, then, might not become substance, but it contains substantial power. Crisp charms with wit and the precisely phrased epigram, but the evening's entertainment is more than light banter. Although he says he has no interest in politics, he is also fond of saying, "People are my only pastime." What this Englishman brings to the American body politic gathered in a small theater in St. Louis or Manhattan is the reminder, even the challenge, of individualism -- an individualism not of the libertarian mode but one tempered by civility and caring.

Another stylish New Yorker, Walt Whitman, had dreams of touring America and speaking to the people of his vision of democracy. Crisp, a chosen son of Manhatta, is akin to Whitman in a homoerotic spirit that has as its dual nature the capacity to both say, "I celebrate myself and sing myself," and to embrace the bustling multitude. Or as another iconic diva of the homoerotic imagination would say, "People, people who need people, are the luckiest ... "

-- Eddie Silva

By Michel Tremblay
HotHouse Theatre

Like a lot of people, I've been enjoying the development of HotHouse Theatre, a group of serious actors staging serious plays. I'd never heard of Michel Tremblay's Bonjour, La, Bonjour, but I was eager to see it, especially when I noticed, on opening the program, that director Marty Stanberry had cast some of the town's best actors in the play's eight roles.

The actors played handsomely -- I mean, isn't that what we expect from the likes of Lavonne Byers, Sally Eaton, Mack Harrell and Donna M. Parrone? In addition, Scott DeBroux's set is elegantly conceived and executed, and Thomas W. Quintas' lighting is first-class.

The problem is, Bonjour, La, Bonjour, at least in the translation HotHouse Theatre is using, just sucks. Its poor, nasty, brutish and long single act mimes the homecoming day and evening of doltish, inarticulate Serge (Brian Patrick Healy), the 25-year-old son of a family that makes Mr. and Mrs. Oedipus look like Ozzie and Harriet. The elderly, sadly deaf paterfamilias (Mack Harrell) lives with his two feuding sisters (Diane Peterson and Eaton), and three of Serge's four older sisters (Parrone, Byers and Stephanie Beschta) live with unsatisfactory husbands. The youngest of his sisters, 30-year-old Denise (April Eaton), has been living alone for the three months of Serge's absence in Europe, but before that she was living and lying with her brother. Two of the other three, at least as Stanberry directs it, certainly like touching, gazing at and otherwise crypto-molesting Serge, too, although the eldest is making do with taking one of his friends as a lover.

Will Serge and Denise take up where they left off? What's going to happen to Papa, and will somebody tell him what his two youngest are up to?

Who cares? Save for Harrell's Armand, none of the characters is appealing. Indeed, Parrone's Lucienne is malevolent, and the power Parrone brings to the part made me want to run for the exit -- I didn't want to be in the same room with somebody so unpleasant. Serge and Denise are kind of milk and water, and everyone else just whines and whines and whines -- but with great skill.

Why HotHouse Theatre chose to present Bonjour, La, Bonjour is utterly confounding. It's annoying, too, that such uniformly competent people -- actors, director, technical staff -- would subject themselves and the rest of us to such a river of snot. What's the point of all that art being spent on so miserable a play?

-- Harry Weber

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