Out of a slew of theater openings Friday night, we chose “Fabuloso!” by Third Rail Repertory Theatre. Directed by Third Rail's artistic director, Slayden Scott Yarbrough, “Fabuloso” is exactly what the title promises: A fabulous fabulist fable! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist).

With the first few opening scenes, I thought we were going to get a kitchen-sink comedy reprising some of the themes from “Dead Funny,” the company's fall production. You know: A middle-aged married couple whose tastefully decorated apartment masks lives of quiet desperation, boredom and bickering. But then all hell breaks loose.

Husband Teddy (Philip Cuomo) coaches girl’s soccer, meekly enduring the ire of disgruntled parents and looking ready to jump out of his own skin. At first, I couldn't tell whether Teddy is a man-child, a dimwit or just an empty husk. In one scene, he describes himself (through a bizarre bit of sing-song verse) as a half-filled glass of water who would rather be a piece of raw, rotting meat--at least the neighbors would notice his existence. Cuomo’s clown training and background is evident in his hang-dog demeanor and rubber face. He's a sad sack and a failure whose greatest flaw is his decency.

Teddy’s wife, Kate (Stephanie Gaslin) is clearly the more competent one of the pair. She’s the family member who holds down a real job at a bank, and the one whose infinite patience may be about to reach its limits. Gaslin succeeds in keeping the role appropriately reined in and even-keel--at least compared to her outsized companions.

The first few scenes with just Teddy and Kate are a slow simmer, interspersed by occasional chuckles. But then Teddy’s childhood friend, Arthur (Tim True), bursts onto the scene in a frenzy and a white dinner jacket. Arthur is a bon vivant and a gadfly, a man full of bluster, charm and manic energy. He spews the play’s choicest lines as he quickly destabilizes whatever sense of “normal” Teddy and Kate have settled for. True's portrayal of Arthur reminded me of his Mr. Marmalade at ART a few years ago, though without the menace and threat. I can understand why you would want to have him around, but also why you might pray that he just go away, please!

Arthur's warm reunion with Teddy (after a twenty year gap) is cut short when his fiancée, Samantha (Val Stevens) arrives, a bipolar express with murder on her mind. She’s even more unhinged than her par amour, if such a thing is possible. Stevens's overwrought portrayal of the maniacally-depressed drama queen is perfectly pitched; there's no call for subtlety in this role.

After Arthur and Samantha arrive, the play’s delicious absurdities zoom, and playwright John Kolvenbach’s script really begins to shine. (This is one of those rare plays that make me want to read the script afterwards). The visitors quickly turn an overnight slumber party in a long-term encampment in Teddy and Kate’s cozy one bedroom apartment. Life becomes one long party, full of mirth, martinis and merriment … at least when it isn’t shadowed by the threat of stabbings and occasional gunfire. It’s a wild, boozy ride--a ride that Kate endures gamely, despite her dire need for sleep. (After all, she’s the one that has to get up for work in the morning). Don't worry about this turning into "Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf?"--no Hump the Hostess happens here.

You just know the foursome’s party can’t go on forever--or can it? Somebody is going to have to grow up and make some adult decisions, or somebody is going to get hurt. Until then, it’s great fun to watch this odd little family having fun together. The highlight of that fun is a lengthy dance number that closes the first act; it's a wild, sweaty production number that they’ve rehearsed to the point of exhaustion, and easily the top bit of stage choreography this season.

In the end, Teddy and Kate do grow up … at least a little. Arthur and Samantha aren’t transformed a bit; however, I suspect they may be nothing more than ghosts--the embodiment of that inner child that just needs to play, to be loved and to throw a temper tantrum every now and again. Once Teddy and Kate learn to accept that part of themselves and each other, they’re going to feel a whole lot better about how their lives are working out.

Final note: For a relatively young and smallish theater company, Third Rail stands out with its top grade production values. It works with some of this town’s best designers and doesn’t skimp on sets and costumes. Curt Enderle's realistic apartment set is both detailed and sturdy (there is a lot of movement in this play), and Don Crossley's lighting is just right. The entire Third Rail team is clearly a well-coordinated team, albeit one that mistreats its stagehands and wardrobe folks something fierce. I don't want to give away any surprises, but the backstage crew of “Fabuloso” ends up with a lot of cleaning up to do each night, just as it did after "Dead Funny" with its pie fight, and "Skull of Connemara" with its smashed skulls and piles of dirt.

"Fabuloso!" runs through May 31, 2009 at the World Trade Center Theater. Call the box office 503-235-1101 before this one is gone.


Mead said...

Another star of the show that's not on the cast list: a certain birthday gift that comes and goes from the play's action. Though generally I'm not especially acquisitive, as soon as I saw it I thought: MUST. HAVE. THAT.

Chills and spills galore in this show (especially the latter -- literally).

MightyToyCannon said...

Oh yes! I love that certain birthday gift. I suggest Third Rail hold an auction for it after the show closes...an auction to see who gets to buy it to give to Mead!

cynseattle said...

ha! I see we all covet the birthday gift! I asked the designer about it at the end of the show :-) I sense a cottage industry waiting to bloom...

I second MTC's review of "Fabuloso." An entertainment it is, but how pitch perfect Third Rail that it's an entertainment awash in the askew. Do go!

Christiana said...

Loved the play. I saw it on Mother's Day. My favorite was the dance number at end of the first act.

It brought back memories and made me laugh.

MightyToyCannon said...

Christiana, I agree that dance routine was truly exquisite in its sweaty exertions. I was told my one of the folks working on the production was that the choreographer, Amy Palomino, had to make sure the actors didn't get too good at it -- they had to keep the quirkiness and rough edges. I remember being in high school and dancing in a friend's living room to James Brown. Not at a party, mind you, just a group of us spinning the record and having a blast in the middle of the day.