"If you can't say anything nice about anybody, come sit by me," says Clairee Belcher, the Louisiana doyenne played by Olympia Dukakis in the 1989 film adaptation of Steel Magnolias. It's a line that Gerry, the protagonist of Drew Droege's Bright Colors and Bold Patterns, would undoubtedly appreciate. Produced by Form Theatricals, this riotous solo play at Barrow Street Theatre luxuriates in that favorite homosexual pastime: throwing shade. As performed by the witty and articulate Droege, it occasionally has the feeling of a high-concept stand-up comedy routine — one with an onstage liquor cabinet.
The story takes place over the course of an evening at a vacation house in Palm Springs where people are gathering for the marriage of Josh and Brennan. A friend of Josh, Gerry is staying with his old roommate Dwayne. Joining them is Mack (Dwayne's 23-year-old boyfriend) and Neil (Dwayne's ex-boyfriend). As far as drama is concerned, they're like a pile of oily rags even before booze and coke are thrown on the fire. They drink and get high as Gerry reads Brennan and his family for filth: "She's just that girl that turns into a melted cupcake after two Chardonnays," he says about Brennan's unimpressive sister, a lady who liberally uses the term "my gays." He describes the groom as "mayonnaise on a Captain's Wafer."
Convinced that these white-bread nuptials are mostly the work of Brennan and his family, he is particularly irked by a passive-aggressive note on the invitation requesting that guests refrain from wearing bright colors or bold patterns. "He is a gay man getting married in Palm Springs," Gerry incredulously notes. "He thinks a couple of bright colors and bold patterns are gonna sell him out?" He also scoffs at the interior decor of the rental house (perfectly revolting bright colors and bold patterns on black wicker by set designer Dara Wishingrad), which he describes as a "Frankenberry meth orgy."
We laugh heartily at the Gerry show as we imagine the boys sitting around the pool and drinking froufrou cocktails. It's all good fun until he trains his fire on the people directly in his line of sight. We also wonder if his hostility to gay marriage as a concept has something to do with his inability to maintain a relationship: He mentions an absentee boyfriend several times, but we never really believe that he exists. Little by little, Gerry begins to look like the gayrinch who stole Christmas.
Until this point, director Michael Urie smartly helps Droege maintain a balance between sassiness and nastiness. He slowly and deliberately pushes the boundaries, testing what he can get away with (Droege improvises a healthy portion of the script every night, so this really depends on the crowd). He's an undoubtedly messy queen, but one that we can't stop watching.
In Gerry, Droege astutely captures a familiar archetype: the gay man who uses humor as a defense mechanism, arranging his verbal barbs like razor wire around his soul. He references films and TV from the '80s and '90s, confident in the belief that the pop culture of his youth will remain timeless. He bristles at the poor millennial heathens (like Mack) who don't immediately recognize the name Julia Sugarbaker. We've all met Gerry…some of us might even be Gerry. Droege inhabits his character completely, occasionally laying down his fabulous armor to show us the scared and aging man beneath.
While the more earnest moments about Gerry's Presbyterian childhood in suburban Atlanta or his unlucky-in-love dating history have the weighty feeling of a stage adaptation of The Velvet Rage (Alan Downs' pop psychology book about gay male insecurity), Droege always brings us back to a humorous place, for which we are thankful. Also, at an easy, breezy 70 minutes, Bright Colors and Bold Patterns doesn't ask too much of our time while offering a surefire laugh.