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Adrift in Macao

For all its charms, Christopher Durang and Peter Melnick's musical parody of film noir lacks a needed edge.

By New York City
Orville Mendoza and Michele Ragusa
in Adrift in Macao
(© James Leynse)
Orville Mendoza and Michele Ragusa
in Adrift in Macao
(© James Leynse)
Light, silly, and sweetly sophomoric, Christopher Durang and Peter Melnick's musical Adrift in Macao, now at Primary Stages, is a parody of 1940s film noir, complete with tough guy, guns, danger, and good-looking dames with a past. Lest there be any mistake about the genre being lampooned: During the show's opening number, a character hauls out the statue of the falcon that was made famous in the 1941 Humphrey Bogart movie, The Maltese Falcon.

For all its charms, however, Adrift in Macao lacks a needed edge. It's not just Durang-Lite, it's Durang-Late; this kind of parody has been done before. Think of much of Charles Busch's work -- except that the leading lady in Macao is actually a woman.

Our anti-hero, Mitch (Alan Campbell), enters the scene as all anti-heroes do, with a chip on his shoulder. In a nod toward Alfred Hitchcock, we learn that Mitch is looking for Mr. McGuffin, but Durang deflates his own joke by explaining it. (He should give the audience more credit, or simply explain the reference in the program.) Soon, Mitch meets the beautiful blonde Lureena (Rachel De Benedet); she falls hard for him, but he's too much of an anti-hero to notice. Adding to the Casablanca feel, the saloon where most of the action takes place is run by a fellow named Rick -- Rick Shaw (Will Swenson).

The many plot turns that follow are part and parcel of the genre being parodied. For instance, there is a purposefully unprepared number performed at the saloon -- because, if you think about it, we never see anyone rehearse in any of these movies. Character-types are lampooned as well, such as the tough-girl sidekick (a winning Michele Ragusa) and the inscrutable Asian, here named Tempura and played with star-making vibrancy by Orville Mendoza.

Campbell is quite well cast; he comes across like a nuttier version of Sterling Hayden. De Benedet was hampered by a cold and couldn't sing as she might have in the performance we attended; regardless, she was altogether underwhelming. (Her role would have been much funnier played by the likes of Julie Halston.) Jonathan Rayson and Elisa Van Duyne provide attractive backup as a variety of minor characters. Sheryl Kaller's direction is playful, and Willa Kim's costumes are colorful and fun.

Melnick's music is bouncy and, as it should be here, generically familiar. Durang's lyrics are cute and comically self-aware, sometimes to a fault. Still, the songs are what makes this particular show worth catching.

If Charles Busch's parodies have a downtown flavor, Adrift in Macao definitely feels like an uptown show. It reaches out to please everyone, and therefore is overeager and a bit broader than you might like. But Durang is a bright and funny man, and Adrift in Macao is still a reasonably entertaining evening in the theater.


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