Damon Dering (standing, center) plays Irish O'Flanagan in Times Square Angel in its Arizona premiere, presented by Nearly Naked Theatre. Photo by Nancy Lynn Miller.
This week, Curtains flees gratefully back into the arms of the counterculture, but not far enough to avoid seeing another Christmas show. Charles Busch's campy melodramedy Times Square Angel is described by some as a retelling of It's a Wonderful Life, but except for the main angel character, Albert, it's more like A Christmas Carol.
Basically, it's the story of Irish O'Flanagan, a street urchin who has her dreams dashed by cruel fate, grows into a big burlesque star, and chooses financial security over true love, closing off her heart until the fateful Christmas Eve when she gets one last chance to make things right.
When I told my mom I was seeing "a play full of drag queens," she said, "Oh, I like those," by which she meant Victor/Victoria ("the one with James Garner") and Tootsie ("the one with Dustin Hoffman," so you can see where her mind is at). I'll tell you what I told her: In those, the characters are cross-dressing. In this one, all the female characters, for example, are dressed as women, but some of them are played by men. And were written to be played by men. And are somehow even more moving and relevant when played by men, given that the whole thing is still mostly just goofy.
Damon Dering, who plays Irish from the age of 17 onward and is also artistic director of Nearly Naked Theatre, is not a dainty fellow. But as an actor, his talents include a sweet, vulnerable side and the ability to get around quite well in heels. The photo above does not do justice to the radiant glamour that is his Miss Irish in the flesh. As tomboyish, 12-year-old Irish, Chance Edward is adorable, with plucky innocence and eyes like a bad puppy painting.
The drab colors of the set and costumes reinforce the 1930s-'40s Hollywood film feeling that permeates most of Busch's work. Irish's flame-colored hair and, later, her costumes and dressing room pop out in deliberate contrast. Director Tim Shawver has all the elements working together with his cast's stylized physicality (and the sheer fun they're having) to make the emotional impact of the show work as well as the over-the-top parody.
Like a steaming lilac-scented bubble bath or an embarrassingly large molten chocolate dessert, the best way to enjoy Times Square Angel is to sit back, turn off the plot-following part of your brain, and just let the sweet, sweet cheesiness flow over you. Suddenly you'll realize that Irish O'Flanagan and her chorus boy are singing a medley of Christmas carols in which they impugn each other's age, appearance, talent, and virtue, exactly like a couple of Ann Miller and Debbie Reynolds impersonators on a sketch comedy show. And it won't be such a bad holiday after all.
Oh, and there's no intermission. So do your peeing before it starts.
Times Square Angel continues through December 20 at the Little Theatre at Phoenix Theatre, 100 East McDowell Road. Call 602-254-2151 for tickets, $20.50 - $23.50, or order here. -- Julie Peterson