The Review: Happy Birthday Doug at Soho Playhouse
It was the perfect way to spend a Valentine’s Day evening. Have a few drinks with a good friend (since I was flying solo this VDay), and show up at Soho Playhouse to see witty and wise writer and performer Drew Droege do that thing that he does so deliciously well. He did his duty in the very engaging and whip-smart Bright Colors and Bold Patterns when he wheeled his Rollie bag into the Palm Springs home of his ex lover and former NYC roommate/college buddy for a gay wedding celebratory weekend causing mayhem in every corner of that patio. His finely-tuned chatterbox character, Gerry, was genius, as we watch him head straight to the bar for a drink, and what desperately unfolds over that wild wasted night is an messy examination of the endless needy discomfort that many a gay man try so desperately to avoid. The setup for Happy Birthday Doug is somewhat similar in theme and neediness, but this time around it is infused with a wide variety of different tonics and flavors, all mixed strong and sharp with generous shots of sex, drugs, and escapist alcohol.
As directed with a feisty point of view by Tom DeTrinis (Celebration Theatre’s Ravenswood Manor), Droege expertly inhabits the variety of characters with clarity and a strong dollop of the ridiculous. They have all arrived, whether Doug likes it or not, to a fancy private room hidden in the back of a wine bar in Los Feliz, LA to wish their friend, Doug a happy birthday. One by one they saddle up, with their signature drinks in hand, casually exposing their true inner insecure selves more and more with each and every sip as they carry on a one sided convo with the birthday boy. Channeled wisely with a great sense of timing and understanding, Droege delivers these multi-flavored engagements magnificently, rubbing the self-applied veneer off for our viewing pleasure.
It’s all fun and games, as we say, until someone loses an eye, and although that doesn’t happen exactly, some mayhem and madness starts to seep into the wine bar room, especially once Droege starts to quickly weave his way around and around the party, reintroducing us to the invited (and the uninvited). Each and everyone is pretty finely tuned and crafted for optimal clarity and fun, fulfilling stereotypes of gay men that we all recognize, while never losing the humor and the hilarity of what is happening in and around them. With individual traits on full display, the party teeters forward drunkenly filled to the brim with LA references and commentaries on everything and nothing, including addiction, attachment, gay parenting, insecurity, and far more than I can insert here. Droege, the writer, is a wise observer, just like the ghostly presence of Oscar who arrives late to the party and tries, fairly well, to pull it all together thematically for our happy consumption. The show lacks the overall dark depth of the breakage within the comedy of Bright Colors and Bold Patterns, but he doesn’t let us down either. Birthday boy Doug finally steps into the limelight, inserting himself into the wild ride of his own birthday gatherings. He asks to get shoved into an Uber and sent home as he is as drunk as anyone else at the celebration, but are we all that wiser due to his departing words? I’m not so sure. It’s a party that I’m not sure I want to attend, but being the fly on the wall for all the wild and wonderful shenanigans and witty Oscar Wilde asides that are served up is exactly the way to ride this Uber ride to the witty hilarious end.
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