Off Broadway Theater Review: BAIT N’ SWISH (Stage Left Studio)

by Gary Larcan on October 19, 2011

in Theater-New York

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GAYER TUNA

In “Bait” – the first of the two interconnected one-acts in Bait n’ Swish – we meet Charlie and Justin, best friends looking for Mr. Right at Gay Bait, a gay speed-dating event in a Manhattan Howard Johnson’s. In their 3-minute rotating gay dates, they meet a horde of men looking for an assortment of connections:  threesomes, an acting job, their first boyfriend, action in the men’s room (with a transvestite), a male version of their mother, younger men, older men, butcher men, fisting partners, less-jaded men, daddies, and to bond with a fellow Star Trek fanatic (with a lisp that could give the first row a shower).

These men look for what they think they want, with varying degrees of disappointment, until the jaded Charlie actually finds a diamond in the rough.  Is he ready to actually take a chance on a sane man who knows who he is and what he has to offer?  Before he finds out, things are complicated by the age-old choice between friendship and relationship.

Bait n’ Swish - Tom Gualtieri, David Sisco - directed by Laura Josepher - Off Broadway Review by Gary LarcanGay Bait is hosted by Chad and Brad, a flamboyant and “perfect” couple.  As the event unfolds, we watch the façade of their relationship crack, crumble, and get re-spackled – as they battle each other for control over the all-powerful whistle that cues the group to rotate to their next date.

It needs to be said… Charlie, Justin, the Gay Bait hosts, and the other 28 men looking for a date are all miraculously played by two versatile actors:  Tom Gualtieri and David Sisco.  Without costume changes, but with instant, carefully chosen shifts in voice, posture, manner, and level of nelliness, they transform into all of “Bait”’s 32 characters.

Some of the clichéd characters are so true that they’re…well, sad; and sometimes they’re so true that they’re hysterical.  This one-act (first performed in 2006) is not, by any means, an endorsement for speed dating, but confirms how difficult it can be to find Mr. Right – especially if you think you know what you’re looking for.  It’s also very funny in how it shows how much or little you can learn about someone in 3 minutes.

After an intermission, the companion piece, “Swish” (both acts are written by Mr. Sisco) picks up the Charlie/Justin relationship at a different stage. Mr. Sisco’s Charlie moves to Boise, Idaho to write his next book and to take care of some family business.  Bait n’ Swish - Tom Gualtieri, David Sisco - directed by Laura Josepher - Off Broadway Review by Gary LarcanMr. Gualtieri continues to play Justin (who stays in New York) as well as everyone else Charlie meets in Boise:  Bill (the gay-of-few-words grain farmer), Ryan (the younger Dancer with boundless nerve and flexibility), Adam (the overly confident banker), and the bevy of beauties auditioning for the Bingo drag queen host.  There is one more character in “Swish” – Deloris, the only true female character in the evening.  Deloris is Charlie’s folksy Auntie Mame: all accepting, all knowing, and – as played by the delightful Mr. Gualtieri –  darn funny.  Like Greater Tuna, we learn a lot about the town through its inhabitants.

As Charlie waffles about his relationship and an idea for his new book, Deloris introduces him to Boise’s gay scene.  Charlie quickly discovers “We’re not in ‘Manhattan’ anymore.”  “A horseshoe pit at a gay bar?!”  He finds that his expertise is needed to improve the gay scene.  At this point, Mickey and Judy would put on a show; instead, Charlie and his Boise boys open a gay club.  In Boise.  The second gay club in Boise.

“Swish,” written after “Bait,” is the more mature piece, as we’re taken farther along in Charlie’s journey and the other characters are more developed. Mr. Sisco, a generous writer, gives Mr. Gualtieri a great opportunity to develop a menagerie of characters with much more depth (and just as much humor), which he does very affectively.  Together the two pieces blend camp with an edge and a more realistic romance.

Written and played with heart, only the tour-de-force moment when Mr. Gualtieri plays a rapid-fire series of auditionees for the new club’s Drag Bingo host do they go straight for laughs (which are mined successfully).

Bait n’ Swish - Tom Gualtieri, David Sisco - directed by Laura Josepher - Off Broadway Review by Gary LarcanDirector Laura Josepher does an excellent job of shaping and sharpening the actors’ total of 49 characters.  Pace and tone are key with this kind of material, which Ms. Josepher handles with aplomb.  With this stripped-down production, she puts the story of Charlie and Justin front and center, foregoing technical and design elements.  The actors perform their own “set changes” and often their own sound cues.  Clearly this artistic collaboration of director, writer/actor, and actor is an effective creative team.  The program lists no designers or even a stage manager.  Watching it was like watching a comedy team comfortable dealing with each other, the audience, and the material; they even expertly navigated a flub or two with ad-libs.

The production is small in scale:  actors – 2; costumes – 2; chairs – 4; stools – 2; characters – 49 (which is technically more than the capacity of the intimate jewel box Stage Left Studio can hold); props – few; laughs – plenty.  What it’s lacking is flattering press photos: these men are much cuter than the pictures let on.  Not that that’s important; just saying.

Bait n’ Swish
Stage Left Studio
scheduled to end on November 18
for tickets, visit http://www.StageLeftStudio.net
EXTENDED TO FEBRUARY 10

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