I've been working on a list of people or things that Katie McFadzen possibly can't play. Here's what I have so far: a pencil sharpener; Stalin; a venereal disease. But don't quote me on any of these, because it's likely that next month she'll show up on a local stage as the general secretary of the Communist Party. Or chlamydia. And she'll kill.
McFadzen can perform anything, and has. In Little Queen, Guillermo Reyes' likable new comedy playing now at the Viad Center, she's a Mexican mamacita — interesting casting for a white gal, even one of McFadzen's considerable talent. Her ecstatically embroidered performance provides the high points in Reyes' campy sitcom, in which she dares the kind of jalapeno-hot hoochie mama once played by Chita Rivera in a less-enlightened era, when we were allowed to laugh at ethnic stereotypes simply because they were funny.
So, quite often, is Reyes' new play, which he's produced with his own company, Teatro Bravo, featuring a cast made up largely of actors more frequently found performing at Tempe's Childsplay theater. The story, which plays out like an especially randy episode of Ugly Betty, concerns a gay Mexican-American teen named Dewey (Israel Jiménez), who's obsessed with the Academy Awards and hopes to win a college scholarship in an Oscars trivia contest. His mother (McFadzen), is a high-strung nutcake hooked on prescription drugs whose brother (Ricky Araiza) wants to send her boy to boot camp to turn him into a heterosexual. Dewey is being stalked by the sophomore who lives across the street, a nancy boy named Joey (Eric Boudreau) who has ratted out Dewey's high school history teacher, with whom Dewey is having an affair.
Little Queencontinues through June 7 at Playhouse on the Park, 1850 North Central
Avenue. Call 602-254-2151 or visit www.teatrobravo.org
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Reyes' writing is smart and fast-paced, and the story's comic extremes — the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as a scheming, industry-controlling powerhouse; an agency that hands out college scholarships to kids who can memorize lists of Best Film Oscar winners — are just plausible enough to seem real. There's plenty of commentary about popular culture and a lot of smart dialogue written for our film-obsessed hero in the overly stylized manner of an old Warner Brothers movie.
The two young men handle Reyes' comic extremes with real style. Their warm repartee makes the bitchy banter sparkle, and director Andrés Alcalá punches up the tension between them by staging a delightful visual courtship, even as the pair are sparring.
Debra Stevens is also in the cast, which — for people who enjoy watching Stevens and McFadzen perform as much as I do — is like having Christmas and Chanukah both at once. Stevens may be the only local actress who can elevate such lines as "The winner of our competition can't be illegal, queer, and a top!" and her tart reading of dialogue like "Maybe in Hollywood, sodomy helps!" makes it shine.
And there's Katie McFadzen, who pops pills, chats with the Virgin of Guadalupe in a south-of-the-border barrio accent, and waltzes off with the entire production.