Thursday, October 2, 2008

Wig Out!


By Tarell Alvin McRaney. Dir. by Tina Landau. Vineyard Theater. (CLOSED)

Tarell Alvin McCraney's much-anticipated follow-up to last year's Brothers Size is a backstager set in the world of Harlem drag balls. Some critics were captivated by the show's flashy design and its outsider portraiture, though a fair amount of them felt that it functioned better as spectacle than play--and some not even so well at that.

Talkin' Broadway A
(Matthew Murray) Forget European cultural capitals: It's the Vineyard Theatre that's currently on fire. The blaze is one caused by the sparks emitted from Tarell Alvin McCraney's smart and scorching new play Wig Out!, a piercing and oddly poetic look at the drag underworld and the glamorous balls that make it respectable.

The New York Times A
(Ben Brantley) Though its centerpiece is a competitive drag ball, and it features the expected extravagant clothes and lip-synching routines, Wig Out! is not a cross-dressing revue or comedy of the sort familiar to downtown audiences. Instead it is a thorough and original anatomy of an alternative universe.

Theatermania A'
(Dan Balcazo) McCraney's vibrant and innovative new play Wig Out!...has got style to spare, especially in this bold production by director Tina Landau...But despite all of the spectacle, at the core of the play is a focus on storytelling...The script is particularly compelling in its nuanced treatment of various aspects of gay sexuality, which both reinforces and subverts traditional notions of masculinity and femininity.

Bloomberg News B+
(Jeremy Gerard) A charming if raunchy fairy tale...brims with feeling and empathy for the drag queens and the men who use, deceive and ultimately love them...The first act has its longueurs, not to mention a certain retro-gay sensibility; McCraney owes a debt to path breakers including Harvey Fierstein and Mart Crowley. McCraney's voice is his own, however, and it's utterly original.

(Michael Kuchwara) The story may at times slip into soap opera, but Wig Out!...brims with attitude and extravagance. And attitude and extravagance, the fiercer the better, is what you want in a tale of competing drag houses and the rivalry that exists between the female impersonators in each camp...Yet the new work still feels unfinished. Another look by the playwright at its shaky dramatic structure might work wonders.

NJ Star-Ledger B
(Michael Sommers) Not much of a play, frankly, but certainly one fabulous show, thanks to fierce performances and director Tina Landau's extremely stylish staging...Despite a glossary of drag slang printed in the program, cultural subtleties are not really articulated in the text and probably lost on uninitiated viewers...Certain performers are better actors than others, but every one is a star.

Curtain Up B
(Elyse Sommer) It's all eye-poppingly lively...It's not until the second act, however, when the backstage business segues into an actual Ball, that everything begins to make sense and engages us at least somewhat emotionally as well as visually.

That Sounds Cool B-
(Aaron Riccio) In his NY debut, Tarell Alvin McCraney brough an African rhythm to an urban life, turning a familiar tale into epic poetry; in his latest work, Wig Out!, he breathes a sassy glamour and turns a few linguistic tricks for the house ball scene, a world of drag competitions (read: not racing). The subject matter, like the language, is very pretty, but the dresses are on manniquins, so unless you're already into, say, Project Runway and drag queens, the show's a confusing jumble of interesting acts without any big idea.

Variety C+
(Mark Blankenship) Wig Out! is a fierce drag show, but it's wobbly theater. Set in the world of drag houses, where gay and transgender folks compete for trophies at elaborate balls, the show sizzles with style, turning out better production numbers than many Broadway musicals. However, since playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney and director Tina Landau don't give the spectacle a coherent story, the cast of dressed-up divas has no place to go.

Daily News C
(Joe Dziemianowicz) All the glitter and even fine acting can't hide the bald patches and dramatic sketchiness. McCraney's play is a stock backstage soap opera.

Time Out NY C
(Adam Feldman) In [The Brothers Size], McCraney effectively married a presentational style to a folklore-inflected African family drama. But that same style seems flat and collegiate when applied to the vibrant world of competitive drag-queen balls. Paris Is Burning without the fire, Wig Out! is woefully superficial; it gives good face, but falls short on realness.

Village Voice C-
(Alexis Soloski) Wigs are fabulous. Sadly, Wig Out! is not...McCraney has a cheerful and ready-made plot, the sort of 'putting the team together' motif that drives so many sports movies. But plot doesn't interest him particularly here, nor does character...Tina Landau, a director of rather more substance than style, can't reconcile the dialogue-heavy scenes with the surrounding pageantry.

Newsday C-
(Linda Winer) In 1990, the documentary Paris Is Burning brilliantly captured the passion and the poignancy in the so-called drag 'houses,' where runaways and runways found comfort and competition in dress-up balls. Tarrell Alvin McCraney...has returned to that scene ambitious production but a disappointing surreal soaper that, for all its gender-bending extravagant multicultural fluidity, has little style or compelling point of view.

Talkin' Broadway A 13; The New York Times A 13; Theatermania A 13; AP B 10; Bloomberg News B+ 11; NJ Star-Ledger B 10; Curtain Up B 10; TSC B- 9; Variety C+ 8; Daily News C 7; Time Out NY C 7; Village Voice C- 6; Newsday C- 6; TOTAL: 123 / 12 = 10.3 (B)

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