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Theatre in Review: Bright Colors and Bold Patterns (Barrow Street Theatre)

Drew Droege. Photo: Russ Rowland

If you're a gay man of a certain age -- and maybe even if you aren't -- chances are you've meet someone like Gerry, the protagonist -- and sole onstage character -- in Bright Colors and Bold Patterns. He talks too much, drinks far too much, laughs too loudly, and if there's cocaine in the house you can be sure that he will consume the lion's share. The term "hot mess" could have been coined expressly for him: He sees himself as a truth-teller, but he really represents a full-out assault on the nerves of those poor souls he calls his friends. In real life, you'd flee the minute you saw him coming, but, as impersonated by Drew Droege, this blitzkrieg of a monologue -- stuffed with catty commentary, bizarre non sequiturs, and TMI personal revelations -- makes for a pretty hilarious hour and a quarter.

Gerry has arrived poolside at a rented house in Palm Springs on a Friday night, to attend the wedding of his friends Josh and Brennan. Well, at least Josh is a friend. "Brennan is FINE," he says, adding, "That's exactly what's wrong with him. He's just fine. 'Hi, I'm Brennan. I might be here or I might not.' Sure, he's gorgeous, but so is San Diego -- and I don't ever need to go back there, either." Gerry is speaking to his friend -- and ex -- Duane, who has arrived with Mack, his new -- and considerably younger -- boyfriend, a fact that instantly riles Gerry, who is looking forty in the face. Soon to arrive is Neal, also Duane's ex, and not so affectionately termed by Gerry as "that fuckbag." You don't need to retain the relationship details of all these unseen characters; all you really need to know is that Gerry is going to ride their nerves all night long, because -- well, that's what Gerry does.

Furious about the drive from Los Angeles to Palm Springs, he says he was terrified "I'd go left instead of right and end up getting lost and kidnapped by some horrible Coachella hippie people who'd chain me to an air mattress and force-feed me ayahuasca while they ear-raped me with ironically detached synth pop." Complaining about bands with ungrammatical names, like The 1975, he mutters, "I've never been so mad at an article!" Surveying the house, he says, "That den looks like Trina Turk and Betsey Johnson threw up Bacardi Razz and then sold it to Target ... And only in Palm Springs could you have an entire kitchen made out of rattan!" He offers an extended and riotous explanation of Invisible Child, a Lifetime film starring Rita Wilson as a woman with four children -- one of them imaginary. ("No, there's no moral. No lesson learned. No explanation of why she's this way or how she deals with it. It's just two hours long and then OVER. It's like 'Ain't that some shit. Next up, The Golden Girls'!") He also gets personal with his trash talk, taking Duane to task for getting involved with the 23-year-old Mack. ("I'm just saying we're an entire Abigail Breslin older than him.")

Gerry is on edge for several reasons, not least because his boyfriend couldn't come to the wedding. (There's more to that story, as we discover.) But what really sets him off is the note at the bottom of the wedding invitation: "No bright colors or bold patterns." This leads into an extended and very funny denunciation of Brennan's mother, whose controlling hand he sees everywhere: "Well, she knows that she can't keep Josh from inviting all the gays in Silver Lake, but God forbid they stand out! Waving their bold patterns in front of her beige Talbot's pantsuit!"

As the afternoon fades into evening, and, instead of attending the rehearsal dinner, Gerry downs pitchers of margaritas and inhales line after line of coke, we discover what really has him so ticked off: When, he wants to know, did same-sex marriage turn into a mandate? "What's next -- are we all gonna live in cul-de-sacs and go to bed at a decent hour and wipe Fudgsicle juice off our brats' noses?...Aren't you just a little bit scared? That all of a sudden, we're in this race to be normal, whatever that means. Is that really the goal?"

This is about as serious as Bright Colors and Bold Patterns gets, but Gerry's fear -- that, when he wasn't looking, he went from being the life of the party to a social dinosaur -- is one that will get a sympathetic hearing from many in the audience. (There are moments when Gerry's trash talk threatens to be too much, especially his word choices, which, in the modern manner, lean a little too hard on the use of the word "shit" as an all-purpose noun.) Droege turns down the volume in the final minutes, giving us a glimpse of the confused and surprisingly melancholy guy inside as he tries to figure out where he belongs in a gay culture that suddenly has become a kind of terra incognita. Although Droege, who also wrote the script, clearly knows this character inside and out, surely Michael Urie's direction is at least in part responsible for the assured pacing, not to mention the seamless transition to the sadder, more thoughtful final passages.

The only credited designer is Dara Wishingrad, whose set brings a certain fabulousness to the Barrow Street Theatre stage, courtesy of some diaphanous curtains, patio furniture, and an enormous umbrella. Bright Colors and Bold Patterns is only here briefly, but it should do very well indeed with its target audience and their fellow travelers. As for Droege, he is definitely a talent whom we'll be seeing again. -- David Barbour

(21 December 2016)

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