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Bumbershoot

nytheatre.com review by Julia Lee Barclay
August 10, 2012

There is a lot to like in Bumbershoot, this In/Visible show out of North Carolina, written and directed by Derek Davidson.   The writing is strong, especially Davidson’s ear for the inarticulate in contemporary dialogue.  The acting is mixed, but there are some strong performances by Mike Ostroski and Nathan Whitmer as Jeff and Randy, policemen who have more depth than appears on the surface, including one who is married and closeted.  Another standout is David McCall who plays Ricki, a gay man who we see mostly in drag and discover has another unexpected side to him.  The way McCall plays Ricki as somewhat awkward in drag does not make sense until this other part is revealed.  A temptation in playing that role would be to be over the top, but he accomplishes this in an unfussy way.

There is excellent live music throughout provided by an Irish band led by Brett, a half Asian, half Irish fellow, played by Phil Estrera, whose identity confusion creates the fulcrum of the play.  As an actor he was excellent with his monologues, but faltered somewhat in dialogue.  He seems to be more of a natural stand-up comedian than traditional actor. 

If in the description above you are already confused by what this play is about that is because there are multiple story lines running through it, arguably a few too many.  I cannot approach a few of them lest I give away crucial plot points revealed in the end.

However, more than plot, the primary confusion was the style of the play, which swung fairly wildly from highly stylized to naturalistic.  The only actors who seemed on solid stylistic ground were the two policemen who delivered their lines facing out to the audience in a way that was both convincing but also obviously theatrical.  The jarring between this style and the more naturalistic scenes (that were punctuated by overtly theatrical devices) provoked confusion, not only about styles but also the tone of the piece itself, which seemed to both want to be serious and glide on the surface at the same time.

There are very interesting questions of identity, class and politics that emerge in the play and some moments of pure theatrical grace, but these were muddied by a series of plot twists that while knowingly tipping their hat to noir movies ended up seeming more melodramatic than interesting.

However, this is a highly watchable play with some very good writing that, with some more development especially in regard to direction, could be quite interesting indeed.