The woman two rows back was miffed. "I might go into the Castro sometimes," she complained audibly during the prologue, "but I don't expect to see that here." By "that" she meant the g-string-and-leather-jacket ensemble worn by one of Platee's principals. For her, the rest of the production just got worse, but from any other angle, it was witty and gloriously inventive, a very gay affair in both the classic and modern senses of the word.
Philharmonia Baroque brought Rameau's score to life on the instruments of his day, and collaborators Mark Morris and Isaac Mizrahi gave this Baroque comic opera-ballet a modern reading perfectly attuned to its racy history and fanciful narrative thread. French composer Jean-Philippe Rameau, commissioned to create a work celebrating the marriage of Louis XV's son to a homely Spanish princess in 1745, concocted this operatic tale, about an ugly marsh nymph whose delusion of wedding a Greek god makes her a laughingstock. Apparently neither the plain princess nor the court of Versailles -- which might have seen itself in Rameau's idle Olympian pranksters -- was offended.
Platee's prologue, "The Birth of Comedy," is a rousing ode to Bacchus and the intoxicating power of laughter. Set designer Adrianne Lobel places the action in an urban bar, complete with neon Miller beer signs and a motley cast of patrons, including a lesbian in a pinstriped suit and the leather guy, whose costume foreshadows the appearance of the satyrs in Act 3. Morris quotes Jerome Robbins and decades of social dance in the variations, and Mizrahi pays sly tribute to American pop culture as L'Amour materializes in a white suit and matching quiver, an arrow through the head a la Steve Martin.
The action shifts from the Manhattan watering hole to a wooded marsh, where Mercure and Citheron conspire to cure Jupiter's wife, Junon, of her chronic jealousy. They decide to trick the vain, froggy Platee into thinking that Jupiter wants to marry her, and then tell Junon, who will be outraged until she sees Platee and realizes that she isn't a serious rival. Modern audiences might find the premise offensive, but the admirable tenor Jean-Paul Fouchecourt, in Mizrahi's ludicrous frog drag (with huge flapping extremities and a potbelly), retains an air of dignity despite the scripted off-key notes.
The score, meant to spoof melodramatic Italian opera, is marked by clever passages like the lovely chorus of "How beautiful she is" and the woodland creatures who echo Platee's "Quoi?" as if it were the cawing of a crow. Morris and Mizrahi's shared vision of the swamp is a riot of color and motion; the deities descend in a seat-belted chariot lowered from the ceiling, and the birds, turtles, and lizards frolic with slippery glee around a fountain with real water jets.
The collaborators have staged this ballet bouffon like a bawdy and deliriously vivid children's book, and Morris really lets loose in the last act with the chaconne, a series of stately divertissements that he drags out to ridiculous lengths. The Graces include a man in drag prone to theatrical pratfalls and the satyrs, who clomp around lustily on platform hooves. When Platee realizes she's been duped, there is a terrible silence, filled by the smacking of her giant webbed feet against the floor and a huge splash as she dives into the swamp. The shiver of violins echoing Platee's pain gives way to a swell of music and the voices of the chorus, and order is eventually restored in this sparkling realm. The Early Music Festival in Berkeley, one of the few venues in the world where Plateee has been shown, should count itself lucky to have had it.
Nearly two decades after Martin Sherman blasted Broadway theatergoers' minds and viscera with his play about queers in the Holocaust, director Reid Davis brings Bent to the stage once again. As in the original Sherman production, Davis' message rings loud: While we're far removed from the time of the horrors of the Nazis' sexual and ethnic cleansing campaigns, tactics for controlling -- even erasing -- people that the heterosexual norm identifies as abnormal still exist today.
The central character, Max (interestingly played by a racially ambiguous, handsome Thomas Nieto), masquerades as a baron and bags pretty Aryan boys. But he soon finds himself in Dachau sporting prison stripes, tattoo No. 71835, and a star -- first yellow (for Jew), later pink (for queer). Max's skill at masquerading at first gets him that less stigmatized yellow star; he tells his love-interest Horst (Jeff Crockett) that the Nazis proclaimed him but a Jew only after they watched him penetrate a dead 12-year-old girl. Horst reminds him, "You're not a Jew -- you're a fucking queer"; but we get a glimmer of how Max has internalized the regime's controlling gaze, until his very soul and self have been mutilated.