By Monique Jones
By Travis Cohen
By Liz Tracy
By Terrence McCoy
By Morgan Golumbuk
By Ciara LaVelle
By Carolina del Busto
By Michael E. Miller
I know. Life is a struggle sometimes: You're faced with traffic gridlock, work overload, relationship limbo. But cheer up, at least you're not Baby Doll Gibbons. Not only is her on-again, off-again romance off again, her roommates are furious that she trashed their apartment in a fit of jealous pique. Oh, and a pack of nasty mobsters are putting the squeeze on her to give back some jewelry she stole from them. Gosh! What's a drag queen to do?
Baby Doll is the center of a minor theatrical storm making waves in Fort Lauderdale. This very entertaining disturbance is a live gay soap opera called Victoria Place. Using a cross-cutting multiplot structure, Place follows Baby Doll's exploits and mishaps among an array of supporting characters. Ritchie, Baby Doll's ex-lover and current partner in a gay bar called the Torn Curtain, is a kindly, steady rock of a man but his patience is sorely tried by Baby Doll's melodramatic excesses. So too is B.D.'s put-upon alcoholic roommate Chase, who's furious when Baby Doll tries to break up Chase's budding romance with a new lover. Jimmy Giseppe, a mobster's son, is the tough guy who's after the jewelry, but he hides a secret past only Baby Doll knows about.
All of this comes together as a partly silly, partly scandalous production that teeters between camp and satire. Much of it is clever, some of it is amateurish, but all of it is cheeky, one of the most original theatrical creations South Florida has seen in some time.
Victoria Place is the work of a talented, determined dynamo, Robby Kendall, who has no formal theatrical training but offers a keen comedic sense and a wry, often thoughtful perspective on human nature. Kendall, who wrote, directed, and produced his show, also stars as Baby Doll, a kinetic comedy creation who's a cross between Mae West and Pee Wee Herman. When she's not in full drag onstage at the Torn Curtain, Baby Doll tends to wear tight red plaid suits and a gelled topknot. Kendall is balanced (if that's the right word) by Jude Parker's over-the-top performance as Dr. Celia Rosen, a man-hungry shrink who's weirder by far than any of her patients.
The story tends to revolve around these two lunatics and several other characters who act as straight men. That's straight as in serious, not sexual orientation. Baby Doll's sometime boyfriend Ritchie, a hunky, kindly type, is played with a naturalistic ease by Brian Harman. Same goes for Dwayne C. Tuttle as Chase Ridgestone, the exasperated roommate. Neither at times seems on the same planet as Kendall and Rosen as Victoria Place tends to oscillate -- no -- careen between different theatrical styles. Sometimes the performances are going for something near realism. At other times the show goes for a rude, crude vaudevillian humor. (References to the family candy business afford a wholly irrelevant and deplorably funny riff about fudge-packing.)
All of this anarchy is served up in an uneven, loosey-goosey production. Some aspects are flat-out terrible, others are terrific: The lighting is execrable while the costumes are witty. The sets are cleverly offbeat. The shrink's office has three clocks, all with different times, while the mob restaurant oddly bears iconic gay decorations -- it's hard to take bad-boy Jimmy at face value when he's got a huge Judy Garland photo on his wall. Some of the staging is lame, and while the arch dialogue is clever, it calls for a performance pace and precision that's often not there. Stylistically Kendall still hasn't found a balance among some heartfelt aspects, between ideas about gay/straight politics and the underpinnings of Baby Doll's bittersweet relationship with Ritchie, and some of the off-the-wall comedy.
Though the show is riddled with weaknesses, that doesn't diminish its inspired zaniness. Kendall's Baby Doll is a droll, dynamic creation, easily capable of driving a whole series of episodes. Some scenes are downright memorable, and Baby Doll's lip-synched musical numbers onstage at the club are a delight. I won't give away the show's final gag, but if you ever wondered if anyone could top the hair gel sequence from There's Something About Mary, be assured Kendall has done it.
Kendall began his show in an earlier installment (Episode One) at the Cathode Ray Bar in Fort Lauderdale, which followed the story in video sequences as well as onstage scenes. This concept was dropped for the current production, Episode Two, but the storylines and character relationships carry on. A third episode is scheduled for October. All of this construction and production makes Victoria Place decidedly a work in progress. But there is little doubt that it has the potential for being a potent and popular local hit.
More Stage notes. Victoria Place is not the only independent gay project in the works. The Nature of the Beach, a new gay drama, debuts September 12 at the Shores Performing Arts Theatre in Miami Shores. This project, directed by Broadway and music industry veteran Richard Jay-Alexander, takes a look at a gay community through one South Beach season. A number of celebrities pepper the fourteen-character cast: Author David Leddick and the play's creator David Sexton headline, with former pro athlete Billy Bean in his stage debut.