Theater Review: Gay Deceivers

May 24, 2018

A scene from "Gay Deceivers," the new production by the Kalamazoo Craft Theatre Project
Credit Fred Western / Universal Photo

A new theatre, the Kalamazoo Craft Theatre Project in association with Skits-n-Giggles Theatre Company, had its inaugural production at First Congregational Church last Friday. Kalamazoo playwright and former WMUK station manager Gordon Bolar has this review of Gay Deceivers.

Local playwright PS Lorio’s story is set in America in 1909 and focuses on one family’s obsession with all things modern in life and love, including the item alluded to in the play’s title.

Gay Deceivers is the story of Tolly Roswell, who has most of what a young married woman could desire save one thing: the attention of her husband. The plan she hatches beneath her Gibson Girl hair bun, the invention of falsies, captures everyone’s attention, sets off town gossip, upends the local clergy, and even adds fuel to the fire of the women’s suffrage movement.

The result is a hilarious romp full of comic misunderstandings and witty dialogue that keeps theatregoers laughing throughout, and a plot that holds its audience until the show’s end.

Lorio succeeds in creating humorous and interesting characters caught between a desire for convenience and the decorum of an older social order. The age of invention and the advent of the women’s suffrage provide Lorio with fertile ground for many of the play’s comic situations, including Tolly’s struggle for emancipation from her stodgy, domineering husband.

Benjamin Hooper ("Warren") and Sam Slottow ("Tolly") in "Gay Deceivers"
Credit Fred Western / Universal Photo

Credit goes to director Sarah E. MacLean’s careful and exquisitely paced execution of Lorio’s comic business, such as the pantomimed eating of the family’s invisible roast beef dinner.

Sam Slottow, as Tolly, begins the play as a “right good wife” who frets over her husband’s evening absences from the household. In the process of trying to save her marriage, however, she effects a delightful transition into a resourceful, daring provocateur who challenges her husband and the local pillars of moral certitude.

Slottow’s campaign to restore domestic bliss is bolstered by the strong supporting efforts of Stefani Lynn Wallace as nosy neighbor Rose.

Benjamin Hooper portrays Warren, Tolly’s mutton-chopped husband, with comic flair, and provides a welcome foil for Slottow.

Some of the play’s funniest bits are rendered by actors Samuel Meyers and Nick Rogers, as schoolmates Nelson and Rudy. The give-and-take between the pair during their cross dressing scenes includes dead-pan looks and well- timed, deliberate gestures. The pair extend and enhance the playwright’s sense of visual comedy.

Beyond Lorio’s charming script and McLean’s competent production, which runs through this weekend, the most important outcome here is the establishment of a theatre devoted to new plays.

Kalamazoo has a rich theatre scene and offers an impressive array of quality work. However, a consistent and reliable venue for the development and production of new plays is missing.

Other than Theatre Kalamazoo’s New Playfest, local writers for the theatre have largely had to look elsewhere to see their works onstage or to hear them read in development. With the advent of Kalamazoo Craft Theatre Project, this situation will hopefully undergo a change.

Gay Deceivers runs through Saturday, May 26, at First Congegational Church, 345 W. Michigan Avenue. All performances start at 7:30 p.m.

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