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Flying pigs, singing mermaids and bare cheeks leave little to add

by Lenise Willis

 lenise@yesweekly.com

Being a theater columnist has a few perks; one being that I sometimes get complimentary access to local shows. I always choose my plus-one carefully, pairing the show’s press-released expectations with one of my friend’s personality or taste. Sometimes the choice is a no-brainer. This past weekend, it was not.

When I read that Winston-Salem’s Theatre Alliance was presenting a play called When Pigs Fly, described as “a grab bag of songs, dances, sketches and running gags unified by a gay sensibility,” I knew that this choice would be a bit trickier.

I decided to bring my colleague Karen, not because she lives a homosexual lifestyle — she doesn’t — but for the sheer fact that she was one of the few people I believed I could sit next to in a theater and not blush. I knew she had an equally open mind, and she also drives a yellow bug, so of course I assumed she would appreciate an outrageous, over-the-top musical.

When the first number ran on stage, bearing four sets of bare butt-cheeks, I knew I was right — and thankful — on both counts. With that being said, what more can you say about a play that begins with butt-cheeks peeping through heart-shaped holes in cowboy jeans? Well that’s the 750-word-quota question of the week.

Theatre Alliance’s When Pigs Fly certainly delivered what it promised: a spirited, “skewed but revelatory reflection of what it is to be gay in the 1990s.”

It’s a show that’s playful, spoofy, funny and filled with clever puns and lyrics. And yet beneath all the pizazz, glamour and we-can-laugh-at-ourselves message, lies a not-so-hidden political agenda that’s actually surprisingly playful at times.

The plot is threadbare: A young gay high-school student dreams of making it big in theater, in spite of the soul-crushing scolding from his guidance counselor, Ms. Round Hole. What unfolds next is the young man’s imagination, played out by himself and four other young, sometimes cross-dressing (very brave) men, of what his big show would look like.

I must stress the courage it took for these actors to really bare these roles on stage. The meat of the production is simply the collection of these men’s random and usually embarrassing skits. My favorite was that of a centaur taking a shower in the men’s locker room, lamenting the pain of being called only half a man.

The show’s pink glittery set, framed with silver and multicolored lights and streamers blare, “homosexual typecast.” In fact, the glitzy décor may be one of the play’s most powerful tools, setting the fun, up-beat mood as well as reflecting (and laughing at) society’s preconceived notions and judgments.

Among fun and playful skits, such as a male mermaid singing about a sunken treasure chest, are more playful musical numbers with a little more sentiment, such as two businessmen having difficulties advancing because they’re too “light in the loafers.”

The musical numbers with a more direct point are the satirical love songs made out to Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh and Phil Robertson from Duck Dynasty, all of whom have publicly expressed their views against gay marriage.

During what would be an intermission, a montage of “the history of the rainbow” is projected on the pink curtain, showing both victories, like gay pride parades, as well as struggles, like newsreels about homosexuals being beaten.

Unfortunately the show does have an amateur look and feel, with some cast singing much better than others — although it glides along quite well with the plot of a high-school student scripting random comical sketches that don’t always go as planned. Sometimes there’s diva-cast drama that cancels a sketch and sometimes the props backstage land on a character’s toes. And yet, the show must go on.

All in all, the show most certainly portrays a pleading sentiment for gay rights, but at its core it’s simply just all in good fun.

There are jokes about lesbians and homosexual men. There are jokes about African-Americans and women in the business world. There are political jokes. Inside jokes for avid Theatre Alliance fans. And even jokes that went over my 27-year-old (brunette) head.

When Pigs Fly is ridiculous. It’s colorful. It’s happy and cheerful… and just plain “gay.” You leave in a pretty good mood… and maybe just a little dumbfounded at what the hell just happened on that stage. !

WANNA go?

When Pigs Fly runs at Theatre Alliance, 1047 W. Northwest Boulevard, Winston-Salem, Wednesday through Sunday, Jan. 26. Tickets are $16 general admission for adults and $14 for seniors and students. Visit wstheatrealliance.org or call 336.723.7777 for tickets and more information.

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