Pippa Pearthree, Arnie Burton, Ben Roberts
and Ted Koch in
Abraham Lincoln's Big, Gay Dance Party
(© Carol Rosegg)
Pippa Pearthree, Arnie Burton, Ben Roberts
and Ted Koch in
Abraham Lincoln's Big, Gay Dance Party
(© Carol Rosegg)
The hypocrisy of media, the Right Wing, and even gay activists are broadly and unsubtly skewered in Aaron Loeb's ambitious new work Abraham Lincoln's Big, Gay Dance Party, now playing in the Acorn Theatre in Theatre Row. Loeb's agenda is both comic and earnest, and his dichotomous tracks combine to create an evening that while fitfully amusing is also tiring, particularly in director Chris Smith's uninspired staging.

The play is written in three parts that can be performed in any order and together give theatergoers a full picture of events in a small Illinois town where fourth grade teacher Harmony Green (Pippa Pearthree) finds herself on trial after presenting a school pageant in which Abraham Lincoln's possibly gay relationship with law partner Joshua Speed is brought to the fore.

One segment focuses on fictional New York Times reporter Anton Renault (Arnie Burton), who arrives to cover the trial, and the romantic relationship that develops between the writer and Jerry (Ben Roberts), a young man who runs a coffee shop and is also son to a one-time Senator and now aspiring Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Hauser (Robert Hogan).

Hauser's actions -- and gay-bashing agenda -- are at the center of another portion of the play, while the third section focuses on how his rival Regina Lincoln (Stephanie Pope Caffey), a sitting Senator who's also African-American, uses Harmony's case for her own political ends.

The interlocking pieces of the play bring to mind Alan Ayckbourn's lengthier trilogy, The Norman Conquests, while dance breaks, in which the entire ensemble is sometimes clad in black topcoats, stovepipe hats and fake beards, bring to mind the absurdism that's found in the trial sequences of the musical Chicago. There are even moments when Loeb's work seems to be inspired by Tony Kushner's soaring fantasia, Angels in America.

Unfortunately, the story has a cartoonish soap opera quality that feels stretched thin during the course of the two and a half hours of the play. Smith's staging -- which, despite Bill English's clever scenic design, unfolds awkwardly as the play shifts from location to location -- only enhances theatergoers' sense of how overextended the play is.

In both his primary role of Anton and in a secondary role of the judge at the trial, Burton mines the material for each ounce of humor. Pearthree offers beautifully refined portrayals of Harmony and Hauser's ailing wife. Caffey, though spirited throughout, delivers tentatively, often seeming unsure of her lines. Roberts certainly looks the part of boy-next-door Jerry, but unfortunately, he rarely reveals much below the character's surface. As Hauser and his pitbull campaign manager Lynch, Hogan and Ted Koch prove to be villains that theatergoers love to hate -- which may be all that's really needed for them to be.