First Nighter: Travis Russ's "Gorey," Drew Droege's "Bright Colors and Bold Patterns," The Simon Green-David Shrubsole "Life is for Living: Conversations With Noel Coward"

The temptation with Travis Russ's Gorey (The Secret Lives of Edward Gorey) is to call it "Phantasma-Gorey-cal--in direct line with the writer-illustrator's personality in print and in life.

But it isn't quite that. Throughout its 75 minutes at The Sheen Center, it is, however, playful. Onto the set that designers John Narun and Russ made as Gorey-esque as they could--with, prominently placed, a shaggy fur coat of the sort Gorey habitually wore--come three Edward Goreys. They're Andrew Dawson, Aidan Sank and Phil Gillen to represent the author-artist as young, middle-aged and senior. (Incidentally, Narun also handles the projection design that often features the imagined Gorey animal that resembles an upright seal.)

For the most part, the Gorey stand-ins--starting and finishing each other's sentences, as directed with ease and amusement by Russ--review his often hermit-like life. Much time is given to his balletomane existence once he meets and falls for George Balanchine (but not romantically in the traditional sense),

The Goreys give much time not only to recalling his favorite Balanchine work but also to recreating some idea of Balanchine's choreography for it. (Katie Proulx is the choreographer channeling Balanchine.) The older Gorey suggests no one will recall the work--PAMTGG (1971). (This reviewer does.) The ballet was based on a Pan American advertisement including the jingle with the lyric, "Pam American Makes the Going Great." A rare Balanchine flop, it was pulled from the company repertoire after three performances.

Less time is devoted to pinning down--or, more accurately, not pinning down--Gorey's sexuality. In a version of a Dick Cavett interview from December 1977, Gorey, who's rather testy under the host's jocular queries, dodges the issue. At another point, he vouchsafes his low sex drive.

Although some of Gorey's somehow-autobiographical The Unstrung Harp is recited, not that much stage time is given over to the odd fellow's inspirations, executions and grim, if not Grimm, themes. An upstage wall is covered with drawings that can be examined before and after the performance. Otherwise, the absence of more discussion feels like a significant lapse.

(N.B.: In Program B of the current Les Ballets Trocaderos de Monte Carlo run at the Joyce Theatre, Gorey's set design for act two of Giselle is used. It's a modest affair but serves as a sturdy background for the athletic, well-drilled Trocks to cavort in front of.)
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Remember the love that dare not speak its name? For some time now that love has been shouting to beat the band. The latest shouter is Gerry (pronounced "Gary," if I have that right), whom Drew Droege has created and plays in Bright Colors and Bold Patterns, the Form Theatricals production at the Barrow.

Gerry arrives poolside in Palm Springs the day before a friend's wedding. (Dara Wishingrad has a couple of beach chairs, an umbrella and other paraphernalia on her set.) He's loud and voluble and fast with the obscenities as he addresses the assembled sunbathers, mostly talking to ex-boyfriend Dwayne and Dwayne's new boyfriend, Mac. For one early complaint he brings out the invitation and mocks the request that guests at the ceremony avoid wearing "bright colors and bold patterns." Thus Droege's bright and bold title choice.

Full of references to pop culture (he's surprised that Mac doesn't recognize the name Nia Peebles), Gerry goes on to ramble on about trivial topic after trivial subject. At one point while disagreeing with someone's notion, he suggests that the unseen speaker should "eat a plate of hot dicks."

(Is this wit? How a patron--or a prospective patron--responds may indicate the likeliest prospect for becoming an enthusiastic Droege audience member.)

At another point, Droege defines "gay" as referring to men who celebrate and make fun of their idols at the same time. It's a blanket definition that may indicate the difference between audiences who'll relish Gerry's gregariousness and those who won't.

Bright Colors and Bold Patterns is, in the final analysis, a character study. That's to say that about 10 minutes before Droege's 70 minutes end and after Gerry has sniffed cocaine, drunk any number of margaritas, urinated against a wall and regurgitated, he sobers up and reveals what's really on his mind.

He talks about what's been nagging at him so much that he's compelled to be nearly endlessly and loosely chatty. Sure, his exposing a lonely, loveless side is something, but it transpires after many spectators may have long since dismissed the giddily prolix fellow.

Incidentally, Gerry's comment that gay men like simultaneously to celebrate and tear down idols, like Barbra Streisand, is reminiscent of Jonathan Tolin's Buyer and Cellar. The original actor in that opus was Michael Urie, who just happens to be the Bright Colors and Bold Patterns director. Obviously, he has more than a passing affinity for the flamboyant subject matter.
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In Life is for Living: Conversations With Noel Coward, Simon Green is ostensibly offering his second Coward holiday celebration at 59E59 Theatres. But that's merely the cheerful wrapping for a program that has the capacity to change audience members' often stated views of the masterful British entertainer as "destiny's tot."

Yes, an argument can be made that Coward's drinks-party sophistication, for which his cigarette holder is a perpetual synecdoche, runs so deep here that it just about reaches the genuinely philosophical.

With the equally urbane David Shrupsole at the piano and providing original melodies for some of Coward's prose, the dapper Green sings Coward songs, of course--but not necessarily the most-often recollected--along with songs by Irving Berlin and the Gershwin brothers George and Ira as well as ditties obviously influenced by Coward.

In an inspired sequence, Green, whose voice is certainly up to Coward's often patter-song demands, alternates verses and choruses of the hilarious "I've Been to a Marvelous Party" with somber passages from Coward's diaries. As underscoring to Green's intended message about his subject's darker views, Shrubsole plays the tunes to "World Weary" and "Sail Away." (Jason Worell is credited as the show's researcher.)

"Life is for Living" may only be 70 minutes in length, but it's appreciably more in breadth and depth. Destiny's tot himself would be grateful for the cleverly presented perceptions.