Roddy McDowall fellating himself in Natalie Wood’s kitchen may or may not have actually happened, but the possibility of such a tableau is representative of the wild wit contained in writer and performer Drew Droege’s sparkling solo play, Happy Birthday Doug. Citations of Karen Valentine, Linda Blair, Madeline Kahn, Billy Eichner and Tab Hunter, and the line “Can I smell your drink?” are among the numerous other laugh points in this entertaining and insightful contemporary gay panorama whose subtitle is “These Faggots.”
We’re in a private room of a trendy Los Angeles wine bar where the mostly unseen novelist Doug is throwing himself a 41st birthday party. The invited and uninvited archetypal and arguably stereotypical gay characters include his stuffy ex-boyfriend, a substance addicted former actor, a bland couple, a spacy young waiter, a loquacious elder, a randy player and a surprise historical figure. Titles are projected on the stage’s back wall identifying each by name.
Mr. Droege’s sharp and well-observed writing renders each of these familiar figures with biting depth, achieving grand mini-portraiture. Though preoccupied with comedy, an undercurrent of proportioned sentiment elevates the work above mere caricature. Promiscuity, aging, drugs, alcohol, loneliness and the past are among the issues eloquently explored in relation to the gay male lifestyle. Droege’s shrewd structure has each of the participants alternatively popping up to chatter while imparting pertinent personal details, fueling the semblance of a narrative.
As an actor, the animated and immensely skilled Droege is peerless. He offers vocally and physically distinctive characterizations in rapid succession. Without any costume changes, by just utilizing his own talents and with the aid of artful strategic lighting fluctuations, the casually dressed Droege manages to continually look and sound totally different during this hour-long tour de force.
On the small stage that’s set with several high round tables with drinks on them, director Tom DeTrinis organically places Droege in a variety of areas, achieving visual liveliness. Mr. DeTrinis’ crisp pacing and wonderful stage pictures also contribute much to the presentation’s snappiness.
Bright Colors And Bold Patterns was the Los Angeles-based Droege’s previous one-man show that had an acclaimed New York City run. Happy Birthday Doug is a work of substantive hilarity.
Happy Birthday Doug (extended through March 12, 2020)
SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.happybirthdaydoug.com
Running time: 60 minutes without an intermission