A review of Dan Savage's "Miracle!" — a gay-drag reworking/re-imagining of "The Miracle Worker" that can be seen as a travesty or a hoot — that is playing as part of the Intiman Theatre Festival, through Aug. 25, 2012.
THEATER REVIEW |
At this summer’s Intiman Theatre Festival, you can’t miss a big sign posted in the Intiman Playhouse lobby.
It states that “Miracle!,” Dan Savage’s irreverent redo of “The Miracle Worker,” contains “disgusting language,” “simulated sex acts” with “vulgar, nasty jokes” among other offenses.
The sign is a warning, but also a promise. And a boast. Intiman has presented plays on gay themes before. But bending William Gibson’s Helen Keller bio-drama into a raunchy drag burlesque? It’s appalling to some. And a big hoot to others.
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Awash in Keller jokes, gritty repartee and sexually graphic (though clothed and wigged) routines, “Miracle!” is rather like a naughty kid trying to get a rise out of his uptight parents.
Yet it’s also a messy, nostalgic paean to the old-school cabaret drag where male entertainers are padded, dolled up and spangly-gowned (by the laudable Erik Andor) to glam, snipe, bond and lip-sync to the Andrews Sisters and Gloria Gaynor.
Director-writer Savage, noted author and gay activist, twists the saga of the untamed, disabled Keller and devoted teacher Annie Sullivan into the taming of a deaf, blind and mute drag prodigy, Helen Stellar (Jonathon Pyburn), by butch therapist Annie (a strong Hannah Victoria Franklin).
The more ludicrous gags, as when little Helen stumbles and bellows in her pathetic act, score big laughs — and big winces. And some bits (undescribable here) are just gross-outs.
But “Miracle!”can be less crudely amusing, and it has a sentimental heart. As dicey as the dexterous Pyburn’s mocking of Helen’s spastic pratfalls is, the show pulls for the kid’s rehab. And it roots for Annie to succeed and to get together with a chirpy lesbian stage manager (Marya Sea Kaminski).
Watching accomplished Rep actors Timothy McCuen Piggee and Michael Place totter awkwardly on high heels, and camp it up in a style they clearly haven’t mastered, isn’t a highlight.
But bravo to Burton Curtis, a drag actor extraordinaire of the great Charles Ludlam school. As an aging queen-bee club owner, and loving but negligent parent to Helen, he channels Liza Minnelli and Joan Crawford, and milks every shred of vanity and near-hysteria with astute comic flair and timing.
“Miracle!” would’ve looked more outrageous in the 1990s, when Savage’s Greek Active troupe was burlesquing the classics. Since then, the gay-drag sensibility has infiltrated Broadway (“Priscilla Queen of the Desert”) and TV (“RuPaul’s Drag Race”).
But is it a good direction for Intiman, as the company rises from the financial ashes? Let the debate begin.