by Lisa Joy Reitman-Dobi
‘Tis the season for traffic. I arrived at the Soho Playhouse late, hungry and grumpy. The first act of Oy Vey in a Manger had begun. I was seated in the back and one of the first words I heard from the cast was “Jews!” Peckish, peevish, my hackles went up.
Within 13 seconds I was laughing. I kept laughing even after the house lights were up. If Oy Vey in a Manger can do that to the critical disposition of an irritated, Semitic-sensitive Virgo, miracles exist.
“THE GOLDEN GIRLS MEET PENN AND TELLER.”
In the mood for smart, sassy humor delivered by an outstanding a cappella ensemble? Had it with ho-hum holiday dramaturgy? Get thee to Soho. The Kinsey Sicks, America’s favorite Dragapella Beautyshop Quartet, has created a holiday musical comedy full of wit, ingenuity and lipstick. Tradition takes a turn when the manger is for sale and the owners are a quartet of pitch-perfect, diverse drag queens. Enjoy repurposed Christmas classics such as “God Bless Thee Femmy Lesbians,” “O Hoey Night,” and “Lusty the Snowman.” Founding member Ben Schatz (Rachel) has penned a treasure trove of facetiously clever lyrics: sophisticated, scatological, bawdy and shrewd.
Rachel and her roommates Trampolina (Spencer Brown), Winnie (Nathan Marken) and Trixie (Jeff Manabat) are beautifully individuated, brimming with distinct personalities, tastes and distaste. Spencer Brown’s Trampolina is a delightful, airhead debutante, naïve and unencumbered by logic. Jeff Manabat’s Trixie is chic and fiery, with an expressive beauty that speaks volumes with one fierce look. I had a problem with Nathan Marken’s Winnie; she has splendid presence and is a terrific comedienne but no one, except Cyd Charisse, should have such great legs. Ben Schatz’s Rachel is endlessly funny, tough, and delivers not only great slapstick but also some of the most emotionally taut stories. This Beautyshop Quartet is as fine an a cappella group as any I’ve heard. Top-drawer, between the Frederick’s of Hollywood scanties and the über essential Spanx.
“DRAG QUEENS HAVE BALLS.”
The Kinsey Sicks is a seasoned troupe, each member boasting an impressive resumé as well as a splendid voice. One resumé stands apart; instead of AMDA or a conservatory, Ben Schatz went from Harvard to Harvard Law, then directly onto the front lines of gay activism in the face of the AIDS crisis. He started the first national AIDS legal program, served as Executive Director of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, and was appointed to President Clinton’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. Twenty-four years ago, he became a founding member of the Kinsey Sicks and took gay activism to the stage. In Ben’s words,” Activism and theater are not mutually exclusive; making people laugh is no less effective in making them think.”
Ben and his peers are survivors of a generation decimated by the AIDS epidemic. There was no meaningful treatment, no cure, and scant effort to find one. Immeasurable responsibility lay with those who turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the disease, from small towns to the government. Bigotry was big. People needed to think. Most didn’t. They needed to speak up. Most didn’t. Bigotry is back. People need to think today. Most don’t. They need to speak up today. Most don’t.
Bigotry thrives on malice, but feeds off silence.
Eloquent and essential, Things You Shouldn’t Say looks back at the darkest years of the AIDS epidemic. This is a crucial piece of theater: intelligent, poignant and heart-rending, appositely outfitted in high heels and waggish wit. We need Things You Shouldn’t Say. We need more plays like this one. With humor, honesty and a score of popular (“Where the Goys Are”) as well as original tunes that will have you in stitches, Things You Shouldn’t Say successfully tackles one the biggest heartbreaks in history. In fact, this play is a testament to the struggle of the generations that paved the way for today’s gay, lesbian, transgender and queer population. We’re a long way from fine, but leagues better off than 30 years ago. Things You Shouldn’t Say reminds us that this improved –yet tenuous- sense of safety comes at a profound cost. As Ben puts it: “You have to fight for your fairy tale ending.”
Witty and wise.
Over the last 24 years, The Kinsey Sicks has performed in more than 40 states, Mexico, Canada, Europe and Australia. Their first Off-Broadway show received a nomination for the Lucille Lortel Award for Best Musical and a Drama Desk nomination for Best Lyrics. They’ve recorded nine CDs. Portable Dragapella is de riguer, you know. Visit www.kinseysicks.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Give yourself the gift of laughter for the holidays. See Oy Vey In A Manger. Keep an eye out for Things You Shouldn’t Say. Powerful and funny, rather like Ben Kinsey in a dress.
Oy Vey In A Manger will run through December 24 at the Soho Playhouse.
For a complete schedule and tickets, call 212-691-1555 or visit www.sohoplayhouse.com