Review: ‘The Wild Party’

Oct. 24, 2013 | 0 Comments

REVIEW BY RYAN SENAGA / Special to the Star-Advertiser

Legendarily based on an epic poem by Joseph Moncure March, that inspired Beat Generation-er William S. Burroughs to become a writer, “The Wild Party” went on to be adapted into a Merchant-Ivory film and two musicals, one on Broadway by Michael John LaChiusa and the other, an off-Broadway production by Andrew Lippa.

1024 the wild party

‘The Wild Party’

Presented by the UH-Manoa Department of Theatre and Dance

» Where: Kennedy Theatre, 1770 East-West Rd.
» When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Nov. 2; also 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 27, and Nov. 3 (a free, post-show chat is scheduled to follow the Oct. 25 performance)
» Cost: $18 general admission; $16 for seniors, military, UH faculty and staff; $13 for students and UHAA members; $5 for students with valid Fall 2013 UHM ID
» Info: (808) 956-7655 or hawaii.edu/kennedy

The latter, the Lippa version, arrives at the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Earle Ernst Lab Theatre this week.

Queenie and Burrs are two alcoholic vaudeville performers in New York City during the roaring 1920s era of prohibition. Their coupling is a violently abusive one. After a particularly heated argument, Queenie decides to throw a party so she can find an appropriate public moment to embarrass Burrs and get back at him.

Attending the party is the rough and loud pugilist Eddie (Joe Winskye), the impulsive and very sexually aggressive Madelaine True (Stacey Pulmano), and the D’Armano brothers, a strangely amorous and incestuous pair (Isaac Ligsay and Kalau Crisostomo).

But the most notable guests are Queenie’s fellow party girl/nemesis Kate and her date Black. Kate is instantly attracted to Burr, while Black and Queenie are drawn to each other as well — although their chemistry seems more real and less libation-induced than the others.

As played by Leiney Rigg, Queenie belts her numbers out with melancholy gusto while Garett Taketa is the puffed-up, abusive, drunken Burrs. Also making an impact is the deep, almost Jesse L. Martin’s “Rent”-like voice of Lavour Addison, who plays Black.

The big, loud production reminds one of a Baz Luhrmann movie come to life, especially “The Great Gatsby.” And like Fergie’s song on that soundtrack, “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody.” In this case, someone’s fate indeed ends tragically, but let’s not spoil anything.

Although it’s not that much of a well-known off-Broadway smash, the tunes in “The Wild Party” are memorable and catchy. (Especially Queenie’s sad, mournful “How Did We Come to This?”) A live band backs the performance and the saxophones and trumpets blare, giving the intimate theater a speakeasy feel.

The prudish will definitely want to stay away. There’s a bit of drugs, a smattering of skin, a ton of irresponsible drinking and a whole lot of Fosse-style male-on-female, female-on-female, and male-on-male gyrations going on. One can imagine how enthusiastically lit Burroughs got on this material.

At one point in the play, a character hands another a glass and says, “Why get a drink when a drink can get you?”

It looks like a lot of these poor souls were “got” by drink.

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