BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
A terribly scrambled satire set in small town Illinois, "Abraham Lincoln's Big, Gay Dance Party" raises a ruckus about a fourth-grade pageant that suggests the Great Emancipator's bisexuality is what made him so compassionate a statesman.
Ambitious politicians rant and prejudiced reporters rave while the town kids look on bewildered in this serio-silly cartoon opening Wednesday in the Acorn space at Theatre Row Theatres. Viewers may get a bit bewildered themselves as Aaron Loeb's new comedy lurches along in a messily-staged production.
Demonstrating the show's chaotic nature, a spectator is randomly chosen to decide in what order the play's three acts proceed. (At the preview I saw, Bob Tuschman, a judge from "The Next Food Network Star," somehow wound up doing it.) So the chronology/coherency differs from show to show.
In whatever order, the screwy saga is related from the perspectives of: A biased, liberal, Pulitzer-winning journalist (Arnie Burton,) who not so incidentally is gay. A rabidly-conservative former congressman (Robert Hogan) who's unaware his nice son (Ben Roberts) is gay. And a calculating defense attorney (Stephanie Pope Caffey), who aims to become the state's first African-American woman governor.
Other figures include a sneaky Republican operative (Ted Koch) and a duplicitous aide (Lisa Birnbaum). Pippa Pearthree modestly portrays the mild-mannered teacher who becomes a lightning rod for the controversy that breaks over the kids' pageant that rather sweetly begins this ultimately sour tale.
Everything climaxes in a goofy courtroom scene. Throughout the overlong proceedings, the show's seven performers invade the stage dressed in Lincoln drag to erupt into choreographed segments or sometimes just to rearrange the scenery. Director Chris Smith's broadly-acted production often looks sloppy but perhaps he simply wants things to appear spontaneous.
"South Park" and "Inherit the Wind" are among the obvious influences in Loeb's antic hit-or-miss writing, but in spite of a couple of thoughtful passages, the sketchy comedy ultimately has little to say except that nearly everybody is corrupt and/or has an agenda. Big news, huh?
Personally, I did not find anything especially witty or fresh about the show, but perhaps you'll be more tolerant towards the sporadic amusement afforded by "Abraham Lincoln's Big, Gay Dance Party."
"Abraham Lincoln's Big, Gay Dance Party" continues through Sept. 5 at Theatre Row Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St., New York. Call (212) 239-6200 or visit www.telecharge.com.
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