Stray Dog Theatre's Most Fabulous Story Is the Perfect Christmas Gift

Steve and Adam and Jane and Mabel (William Humphrey, Luke Steingruby, Maria Bartolotta, and Angela Bubash) are new in town.
Steve and Adam and Jane and Mabel (William Humphrey, Luke Steingruby, Maria Bartolotta, and Angela Bubash) are new in town. JOHN LAMB

The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told

Written by Paul Rudnick. Directed by Justin Been. Presented by Stray Dog Theatre through December 22 at the Tower Grove Abbey (2336 Tennessee Avenue; Tickets are $25 to $30.

The laws of Christmas demand that all entertainment during December be steeped in the holiday traditions. This results in most such offerings being limited to the big — perhaps the only — permissible plot line: Will there be a Christmas this year? The answer is of course "yes," because of the aforementioned law. This allows very little suspense to build in any form of seasonal entertainment, save only of the "How will everyone come together to celebrate and enjoy Christmas?" variety. It truly is our worst holiday, and much of its related entertainment is dreary and predictable.

Gary Bell and Justin Been, the artistic directors of Stray Dog Theatre, refuse to be bound by these conventions. For more than a decade Stray Dog has counter-programmed December with plays that treat the Matter of Christmas with irreverence, or that deconstruct it and rebuild Christmas as something new and surprising. Paul Rudnick's The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told, this year's offering from Stray Dog, is of the second variety. It's an audacious, bright comedy that recasts the Old Testament story of Adam and Eve with Adam and Steve, but it's more than a cheeky romp through the Bible. Director Justin Been's vision for the show emphasizes the humanity of Rudnick's script, ensuring that this is a Christmas story with love and faith at the heart of it. There are also quite a few in-jokes for the LGBTQA audience.

We begin with the creation of the earth. From her desk at the side of the stage, the Stage Manager (Patrice Foster) cues the creation of Paradise, the first sunrise and the first sunset with the assured, clipped tones of the most experienced theater tech. (The video projections of Creation are gorgeous, and uncredited.) Adam (Luke Steingruby) wakes first, clad in a fig leaf loincloth and ready to give a name to everything in sight. He soon encounters the similarly clad Steve (William Humphrey), who also believes he is the first of his kind in Paradise. The Stage Manager knits quietly while Adam and Steve proceed rapidly from first meeting to second date to sex, and she smiles softly at their shared joy. Love is love.

The arrival of lesbian couple Jane and Mabel (Maria Bartolotta and Angela Bubash) only increases the circle, until an audience member objects to all this blasphemy, and demands that they adhere to the Bible. Adam does have some questions about what this life means, as does Mabel. Steve and Jane are realists. The world exists, they're both happy and that's enough. The irate audience member leaves his Bible on the lip of the stage, which Adam brings into Paradise. Soon, and not so coincidentally, the quartet is cast out and the Flood starts. And here their troubles begin.

Luke Steingruby displays a cheerful naivete as Adam, who questions everything and wants to understand his purpose. William Humphrey's Steve is grounded in his belief that it's the people you love who matter, and nothing else. With time those bonds include the dreamy, ebullient Mabel and tough-as-nails Jane. All four actors are fantastic in their roles, but Maria Bartolotta steals the show a few times with Jane's exaggerated rage.

All the good work in the first act is somewhat diluted in the second act, which takes place in Adam and Steve's Manhattan apartment during the 1990s. Rudnick's script here feels cluttered with too many pieces, as the original quartet is joined by more characters, each of whom is given time to explain their backstory. There are still a high number of laughs, but Adam, Steve, Jane and Mabel are obscured by their large circle of friends. That may be by design; look how their communal love has grown, and remember that "where two or three gather in my name," etc., but it still feels unfocused.

No one should be surprised when Christmas arrives and all plot lines are resolved, but not all of them are happily tied up. Unhappiness abounds in our weary world and in Adam and Steve's, but at long last Adam has found the ultimate answer to his question. Love is all, and all is love.

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