BOTTOM LINE: Abe Lincoln's Big, Gay Dance Party is a satirical, campy good time for the whole family!
When you see a marquee that reads "Big, Gay Dance Party," you know you're going to have a good time. Abe Lincoln's doesn't disappoint. With a mix of absurd comedy, biting wit, and of course dancing, Abe Lincoln's Big Gay Dance Party flashes through two hours of fabulousity with a touch of cultural debate.
Aaron Loeb's script starts with the ultimate theatre threat: audience participation. The cast engages the house in the standard, "How are you doing? I can't hear you!" shenanigans, but it's all a set up for a fun gimmick yet to come. See, the show is divided into three acts, each telling the story of one of the main characters, but they can be told in any order. And it's the audience's choice which will be told first, second, and third; their votes are cast through the voice of one man (or woman) who speaks for the people in the seats. I saw firsthand how invested a family of small children became through this mechanism.
A.L.B.G.D.P. centers around a trial where a teacher is being prosecuted for telling her students that Abraham Lincoln was gay. The three acts revolve around the ambitious state senator who signs on as defense attorney to further her gubernatorial plans, the past-his-prime former Washington gay-baiter, Congressman Tom, who is prosecuting the case, and a flamboyant reporter from the New York Times who wants to bring down Congressman Tom once and for all. The downfall of having three distinct stories is that they are inevitably compared, and one is going to come out the weakest. Illustrating this predicament, the night I saw the show the weakest act closed the play, robbing A.L.B.G.D.P. of its chance to leave me on a high note.
While the state senator and the reporter both have outrageous and well-matched stories with distinct arcs, Congressman Tom's tale of guilt and haunting doesn't sync up, doesn't make as much sense, and isn't nearly as fun. The laughs are missing, and the whole thing is a little bit Christmas Carol meets Death of a Salesman. This murkiness is made all the more glaring because Congressman Tom's story is the one chance at an opposing viewpoint, so its failure is a larger failure on the part of A.L.B.G.D.P. to show both sides.
As an issue play, A.L.B.G.D.P. is only mildly successful. When the comedy is over, the cornfield scenes where gay rights are discussed are too on the nose. Instead of making people realize a new perspective, A.L.B.G.D.P. tells its audience what their new perspective should be, and as such it is ineffectual at changing minds.
But boy is it a good time! The ensemble of actors in A.L.B.G.D.P. radiates with pizzazz. It's one of the funniest and friendliest casts I've seen on the stage since Mary Testa and Jackie Hoffman's duality in Xanadu. Stephanie Pope Caffey and Arnie Burton hold particular appeal, especially when they share the stage. The performers have so much charisma, you hardly notice how little dancing there actually is at this dance party.
Come to A.L.B.G.D.P. at Theatre Row for laughs, come to forget your troubles but don't come for art. It's just fun, but fun for both old queens and small children alike.
(Abraham Lincoln's Big, Gay Dance Party plays at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues, through September 5th. Performances are Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesdays through Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 3pm and 7pm. Tickets are $50-$60 and are available through Telecharge or at the Theatre Row box office. There is a $20 student rush.)