After years of roles in drag with Running With Scissors, Bob Edes Jr. might seem typecast as the outrageously flamboyant Mr. Charles in The New Century. Former host of the radio show "Too Gay," Mr. Charles was such an unrepentant queen that New York City asked him to leave. He reserves the right to speak "shebonics" and have "nellie breaks," in which he flutters his hands and squeals in a high-pitched voice. Mocking homophobia, he says he can turn a baby gay just by giving it a certain look.
Stitching together a play from several monologues, Paul Rudnick indulges inflated gay stereotypes as well as a couple of other social archetypes, including a Jewish mother and a mid-Westerner with plain and tacky tastes. Mr. Charles delights in loud clothing and gestures, and Edes carries the show with his unflappable ease and great comic delivery. Barbara (Lisa Picone) is a craft-obsessed Indiana woman who leaves no sweater or accessory unadorned or unBeDazzled. With a thick Long Island accent, Helene (Francine Segal) expresses her belief her three gay children are God's challenge to her to become the most understanding parent in the world.
As much as Rudnick revels in absurd hyperbole and filthy or catty quips, each of the characters earnestly seeks some sense of understanding and fulfillment. Picone's unrelenting cheer and deft tenor rescue a one-dimensional character. Barbara's all encompassing dedication to crafting is both a business and an avoidance behavior. When her son died of AIDS, making a square for the AIDS quilt offered her a path toward acceptance of his homosexuality, and it offers her insight into others' healing as well.
Rudnick throws out some amusing comparisons, for example, between Helene's brand-fetish materialism and Mr. Charles' couture-label snobbery. Vanity seems to be an antidote to loneliness and existential dread. More creepy and less convincing is the intersection between Helene's domineering motherhood and her son's submissive sadomasochistic side.
The characters' eccentricities make them a bit unwieldy, and the initial scene with Helene is not the smoothest takeoff. But the concluding portion in a New York maternity ward with the entire cast ties their unique paths together in an entertaining way. And like drag, it's all very convincing, so long as you don't stare too long. — Will Coviello
Thru Sept. 5
The New Century
8:30 p.m. Thu.-Sat.; 6:30 p.m. Sun.
Le Petit Theatre, 616 St. Peter St., 522-2081; www.lepetittheatre.com