The warehouse district can be an intimidating maze of shadows, dark alleys and twisting streets. But Walking the Dead, Keith Curran's nifty little play about performance art, gender identity and sexual stereotypes, makes winding through the downtown labyrinth worth every wrong turn. Funny, politically savvy and terribly saucy, this newest offering from the gay vagabond theater company Unhinged Productions is one of the smartest, most irreverent scripts about gay and lesbian issues ever to grace a Houston stage.
In a story that flits between flashbacks and the present, we meet Veronica/Homer Tass (Rebecca Byars), a transgendered man who searches for his own identity in a world of ready-made labels, not one of which seems to fit him. Struggling too are his mother, lover and friends, who try to put together some sort of performance-art piece, hoping to memorialize Homer after his death, only to discover that identity is a terribly complex thing that can't be neatly ordered into one box of mementos or one lovely photo.
Veronica's confused and frustrated mother, Dottie Tass (Barbara Jones), clings to a childhood snapshot wondering "what happened to that beautiful little girl" who grew up into Homer. Veronica's lesbian girlfriend, Maya DeBoats (Ann James), must rethink her own label when her girlfriend decides to become a man. Loony best friend Chester Wysynsky (Dodd Bates) gets tongue-tied over Veronica/Homer's name, never sure what to call him. Then there's Bobby Brax (Michael Johnston), the "self-loathing queen" who learns to embrace his own identity as he learns to accept Homer's.
Walking the Dead
runs through March 18 at the Atomic Cafe, 1320 Nance,
The cast is strong, with the most remarkable work coming from the supporting characters. Jones's bigoted Dottie is, ironically, very sympathetic; her deep, sandpaper voice is full of nasty, right-wing vitriol, though her story is driven by grief. Bates is hysterical as the weird, young Chess. All long limbs and wide-open eyes, this charming goofball wants only to love people and to recall his parents' horrifying suicide, over and over and over. And Johnston's Bobby, a gay, articulate, gimlet-eyed homophobe who incorporates every stereotype that has graced a gay bar since the 1970s, is a fist of unchecked and riotously funny rage.
This quirky story comes together under Chris Jimmerson's smart direction and makes for thoughtful, entertaining theater -- even if it is difficult to find.
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Walking the Dead runs through March 18 at the Atomic Cafe, 1320 Nance, (713) 398-7577. $10.