Fun, Gender-Bending She Stoops to Comedy

The setup:

Gender-bending roars in like a lion in Unhinged Productions' farce about small theater and gay identities, complete with backstage antics and a play within a play. The 4th wall is not only deliberately broken, it is machine-gunned to smithereens with quips reminding us that theater is an illusion - these usually work well, and add to the general fun of actors having a great time as they show off their skills.

The execution:

The lead role of Alexandra is portrayed with drive and a strong stage presence by Joe Angel Babb, but I would have settled for more warmth, to make Alexandra human rather than relentless. Instead of inviting us in to share her life, she reaches out to grab us by the throat and shake us like a rag doll into attentiveness, her weapons being a fixed stare and a musical comedy grin.

The role is one playwright David Greenspan created himself in New York, and succeeds as an acting tour de force. Babb is in fact an actor with a short beard, clearly male, and one of the many gender jokes is that he is a man playing a woman who impersonates a man.

The supporting cast has moments of brilliance, as does the writing, with two extraordinary monologues in Act Two, one by Taavi Mark as a less-than-successful gay actor and the other by Rebecca Tindel Bivens playing a wealthy soap opera alumna and diva - she's great and has an exciting command of her material.

Also good are Rick Evans as a suave producer and Tamekia Jackson as his beautiful assistant and, of course, his lover - no playwright worth his salt would let this opportunity go unrealized. Katrina Ellsworth Ammons plays an actress, the object of Alexandra's affection - nay, obsession. Ammons has the looks but not the fire to make us believe in her lesbian lover's passion for her.

The verdict:

The direction by Cheryl L. Kaplan sometimes sparks - I loved the attentive grouping on a bed - but there are several different acting styles on display, and Mark could be a lot more expressive in his lines.

The script has moments of tedium, despite its acclaim in NYC - Greenspan has a cult following and is an award-winning actor - and the evening is best enjoyed by leaving one's critical faculties at home and reveling in the energy and exuberance of the talented cast.

The show runs through May 1 at Unhinged Productions, at Frenetic Theatre, 5102 Navigation Blvd. For information, call 832-250-7786.