Sunday, March 11, 2007

Our Leading Lady

Charles Busch has never been my favorite playwright. His over-the-top absurdist works and homages to pastiche have never entertained or enthralled me before, and I've often wondered where all of his acclaim generates from. After seeing his new play, Our Leading Lady, I now understand why he's been around so long and has such a devoted base. A perfect amalgamation of history play and overwrought melodrama, this work hits all the right notes and leaves you both laughing and thinking. The ideal cast is led by Kate Mulgrew, pitch-perfect in the title role; an actress with a past who is starring in the fateful production of Our American Cousin, just as the Civil War has drawn to a close. Also wonderful are Maxwell Caulfield as her co-star and clandestine lover; Ann Duquesnay as her Chinese handmaiden with a secret; and Barbara Byrne, a former grande dame now barely hanging on. Best of all, though, is the indispensable Kristine Nielsen as a local actress with Southern sympathies. She and Mulgrew are splendid sparring partners, and whenever they were center stage, City Center seemed to crackle and glow.

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