My friend Ruth Beaumont often says, "If the play is boring, you can always just stare at the stage décor." Unfortunately for me, the set for Stray Cat Theatre's Abraham Lincoln's Big Gay Dance Party was austere and simple; there wasn't much to look at. Too bad. Because I was really, really bored at opening night of this confusing and unentertaining play.
Fortunately, there were a lot of actors in the audience that night, and watching them during the two intermissions turned out to be a heck of a lot more fun than watching the actors on stage. Katie McFadzen was there, as was David Weiss. So was Michael Peck, sporting an Abraham Lincoln beard, and I'm pretty sure I saw Angelica Frost, too.
The best thing about Abraham Lincoln's Big Gay Dance Party is its title — a fun moniker that promises more than it delivers. It's a title that suggests high camp and perhaps some musical numbers, but this is essentially a straight dramatic play dressed up with inexplicable nonsense like kick-lines of actors dressed as Lincoln and a blackout involving several rubber chickens.
The relentless story concerns a district attorney who's planning to run for political office and hopes to gain votes by prosecuting a grade school teacher who produced a children's pageant that suggests that Abraham Lincoln was gay. It turns out that the teacher is herself a lesbian, and her lawyer is the prosecutor's former protégé who is also planning to run for office. There's a New York Times reporter who's out for blood and the closeted gay son of the prosecutor, and a lot of hollering about equal rights and duplicity, punctuated by bits of disco music and, well, not much else that I care to recall.
Playwright Aaron Loeb has so little faith in his own work that he's piled this preachy shrieker with yet another stage gimmick: The order in which the rather noisy three acts are presented is determined by the audience, but it ultimately doesn't matter in which order we view the acts, each of which covers the same ground from a different character's perspective. The story is a dated appeal for equality that's written for comedy but falls flat.
Director Ron May has tossed subtlety out the window. Each scene quickly reaches fever pitch and remains there; the result is a perplexing shouting match that makes preachy points we've all heard before. May is typically better than this; what happened?
There's a little dancing, and the story is arguably about gay people and sort of about our 16th president. But there's nothing big about Abraham Lincoln's Big Gay Dance Party, which isn't much of a party at all.