Eating Raoul: The Musical Is a Feast
Whatever your take on the phrase "politically correct," any piece of work that disparages a person's race or sexuality is bound to raise the hackles of all PC pendejos.
Unless it's really funny. Enter Eating Raoul: The Musical. Based on the 1982 no-budget, independent film-turned-cult classic, the 1992 musical can bog down under a mostly forgettable score, but its lyrics and story supply a campy, wholly irreverent look at social mores. Yes, it portrays Latinos as hot-blooded, sexually obsessed thieves and miscreants. Yes, it writes off homosexuals, BDSMers and swingers as filthy perverts. Yes, some can perceive it as a middle-American, white backlash against the creeping decadence corrupting the body politic. But it's all done with such gleeful abandon that only the truly humorless and sanctimonious would even bother getting their panties twisted over its tongue-firmly-planted-in-cheek excess.
And while this STAGEStheatre production is thin in some places, there's enough campy meat on its bones to give this stew just enough substance to make for a pleasurably guilty repast. (The culinary analogy is no accident.) Mary and Paul Bland are hard-working and morally virtuous (read: insufferably mundane), with a dream of fleeing the sex-crazed, drug-laden cesspool of late 1960s Los Angeles and opening a quaint restaurant in anywhere-rural, America, where they can smell flowers instead of hear about golden showers and worry about a mortgage instead of mace. A group of swingers share their apartment building, a daily reminder of all they yearn to escape. Unfortunately, Paul is fired from his job on the day Mary is sexually harassed by her hospital supervisor and loan agent. That's the same day Paul's wallet is lifted by a streetwalker and his car is stolen—but not the two parking tickets issued just before the heist.
The dream seems dead—that is, until one of the aforementioned swingers barges into their apartment and attempts to rape Mary. Paul whacks him on the back of his dome with a cast-iron skillet. They are momentarily nonplussed, since a dead man is in their apartment. But when they realize he has $200 in his wallet, a notion begins forming: lure well-heeled reprobates into their digs, kill them, then take their cash.
Soon, Ozzie and Harriet turn Hyde and Hyde, running a "sexpert" business, promising all fantasies realized at the hands, whip and riding crop of "Cruel Carla." A gaggle of sexual deviants who would make Dan Savage blush begin appearing: butch dykes wanting to get it on with basketballs; overly mothered gay men with Ginger Rogers complexes; a dude who gets off on channeling Hitler. Things really amp up with the introduction of Raoul, a Tony Orlando-like lounge singer who apparently discovered the fountain of Viagra in late-1960s Los Angeles. Seductive, smarmy and highly adept at this particular kind of business, Raoul teams up with the Blands and brings in a lot more dough—but at a steep price.
Again, while Paul Bartel's (who wrote and directed the film) story is salacious, wicked fun, Boyd Graham and Jed Feuer's score is distinctive mostly for how undistinctive it is. That isn't helped in this show by the recorded soundtrack, even if musical director Andy Zacharias' electronic keyboard augmentation definitely has its high points. Also damaging is the show's lack of visual panache. Both the choreography and direction lack that certain spark an over-the-top musical desperately needs. It's not that anything is particularly wrong with anything, but there's also not anything particularly right with anything. And you can file that sentence among the most astute criticism ever rendered. . . .
While director Jack Millis' show lacks a certain visual verve, he tells the story well and benefits greatly from an energetic cast that blends relatively new STAGES performers with a couple of ringers fundamental in the theater's growth into Orange County's longest continuing storefront theater: Patti Cumby and Robert Nunez. Both performers established their credentials as two of OC's finest years ago, and they don't disappoint here. Cumby supplies just two supporting characters, but she packs so much power and subtlety into both roles that she commandeers the stage. Nunez's Raoul is a deliciously unsexy sexual powerhouse, and he even gets to show off his killer classical-guitar chops a couple of times.
AnnaKate Mohler, as Mary, also delivers a powerful performance; she can sing like hell, and her transformation from Donna Reed to Bonnie Parker is wholly believable—even in such a campy show. Bob Fetes, given the most unfavorable role as her middle-aged nebbish husband, also imbues his character with real dimension. The ensemble, while game, has some weak links, mostly in terms of more missed notes than a blind third-grade school teacher's classroom, but Adam Poynter, Jeffery Rockey and Frank Valdez shine in a number of small, yet ridiculously garish, comic roles.
All in all, it's a mostly satisfying production that could benefit from a strong dose of Tabasco, Tapatío or Sriracha. Though sometimes a bit bland, this tale of the Blands works because it doesn't give a fuck about offending the true victims of the real perversity afflicting America: good, old-fashioned, red-white-and-blue intolerance and hypocrisy.
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