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Kirtan Coan, Eric Bondoc, and Mark Boyett
in Debunked
(Photo © Lenny Cohen)
In the new American millennium, innocence and virginity are mercilessly attacked by X-rated cable and reality TV, massive invasions of porn from cyberspace, and the seductions of Hollywood. Go forth, we tell our young; be prurient and multiply! To find parents who are successful in preserving their daughters' innocence -- even in the freewheeling context of farce -- Alexander Woo takes us far back to antebellum Wilkesboro, North Carolina, where the wild, wild action of Debunked unfolds. The world premiere production feels right at home a mere 80 miles away in downtown Greensboro, where Triad Stage has reclaimed and transformed its historic storefront venue.

Woo's innocents are freaks of nature, Siamese twins who have never traveled as far as Raleigh. The characters are inspired by Chang and Eng Bunker, real-life brothers who were born in Siam in 1811 and settled -- after amassing sizable wealth as traveling exhibits -- in Wilkes County in 1839. By the time we meet the conjoined sibs, Anne and Virginia, they have only one surviving natural parent: Mrs. Colonel Kincaid, as she vehemently insists on being addressed. We're informed that the venerated Colonel was the "hero of Shreveport," duly immortalized among the great infantry in the sky. His place in the household has been taken by Dr. William Beauregard, the family physician, attorney, and advisor.

As the opening scenes unfold, we realize that Mrs. Kincaid and the doctor are at cross-purposes in their plans for the twins' future. Mom has kept her daughters in hermetic seclusion while cultivating a legend extolling their irresistible beauty. The legend draws one Robert Lee all the way to the Kincaid estate, on assignment from The New York Post and eager for an exclusive interview.

The solicitous mother questions whether Lee has any connections with the great Lee families of the South, although he is clearly Asian. She's puzzled when Lee reveals that he's from Shanghai, a place she's never heard of. In terms of innocence and ignorance, the Kincaid apples haven't fallen far from the tree; still, we need Mom's cluelessness to prepare us for the breathtaking naïveté displayed in young Anne's sketch of the male anatomy. If Mrs. Kincaid is obtuse, declaring that homosexuality hasn't been invented in North Carolina, Dr. Beauregard is flagrantly insane. Dressed up unconvincingly as Mrs. Kincaid, the doctor interviews a second Asian, houseboy James Wong. When not cross-dressing or reverting back to his doctor identity, Beauregard assumes a third personality, that of a child named Lulu.

All is fizzy confusion as we gradually become acquainted with the principals. While Mrs. Kincaid's reason for luring the Asians to the North Carolina frontier is to shanghai them into marriage, Dr. B's motives are infinitely darker -- nothing less than showbiz! Utilizing medical technology that existed only in the mind of Mary Shelley's fictitious Frankenstein, Beauregard re-outfits the twins with the heads of our two reluctant Oriental suitors.

Woo is jovially nudging us, reminding us that we have progressed little since the era when traveling freak shows satisfied some of the same appetites as today's cyber-porn and reality TV. Quintessentially American, Beauregard aspires -- with a mad scientist's zeal and a P.T. Barnum's spiel -- to annihilate his competitors. He will create a hermaphroditic, multiracial, medical freak show that will sweep the country and entertain the White House of President Martin Van Buren. Along with chloroform, Beauregard is outfitted with songs and choreography to achieve his ambition. Before the night is over, the heads and bodies of seven people -- plus the odd dog -- are severed, switched, and stitched in a dizzying fugue. Woo delivers decent comedy as the mad doctor preps his Asians, dubbed Yin and Yang, for the freak show circuit. More comic mileage is logged when Wong escapes from Virginia's torso and his Yang slot is taken by Mrs. Kincaid's head. The show must go on!

Debunked never devolves into a Southern-fried version of Wild Wild West because Woo keeps his eyes trained on the metamorphoses of his young couples, avoids formulaic predictability, and revels in offbeat opportunities for satire. Anne and Virginia, newly perched atop the torsos of the Asians, have radically different reactions to their new genitalia: Anne coddles hers and gives her penis a pet name while Virginia abhors the growth and wishes it amputated. At first, Lee is horrified by the prospect of such mutilation in his absence but, with surprising speed, he begins to exult in his new notoriety as Yin.

Steven Eng ascends wonderfully from tabloid supplicant to temperamental aesthete as Robert Lee. His odyssey is not nearly as frolicsome as Eric Bondoc's in the role of James Wong. Eventually, Woo brings Wong to the edge of elopement with Anne's disembodied head. At one point, she's in a teeny shopping bag; at another point, the two combine under a blanket to impersonate one person. You're unlikely to ever see a quirkier or creepier climax to a farce.

Caitlin Van Hecke is adorably simple and direct as Anne but Lisa Bowers makes a far stronger impression as the testicle-detesting Virginia. The juiciest zaniness comes from Kirtan Coan as the Widow Kincaid and Mark Boyett as Dr. Beauregard. The doctor is the evil genius who propels the action, and Boyett rises magnificently to the challenge when he isn't fumbling his lines. But Coan gives the finer performance: dignified yet small-minded, with delicious glints of prurience.

Triad Stage artistic director Preston Lane makes no mistakes with his company's first commissioned work, ratcheting up the action to a circus-like frenzy. The upstage wall on the thrust stage bisects a wide turntable that whisks us from scene to scene. Usually, the floor revolves 180 degrees to make changes, but Lane occasionally calls for a full 360-degree rotation, favoring us with a brief, humorous vignette on the other side of the wall. Once or twice, he playfully keeps us off-balance with an extended 540-degree spin and two vignettes.

Jason Romney's sound design -- featuring saloon hall renditions of "Little Brown Jug," "Skip to My Lou," "I've Been Working on the Railroad," and the like -- injects a festive seediness that works nicely. Costume designer K. April Soroko's antebellum finery and Siamese silks are impeccable. Duplicate costumes really make it seem as if the actors' heads are migrating to different torsos; the cast members are able to slip quickly into their Siamese gear and appear credibly attached.

Farce is a natural arena for excess. While Debunked is tricked up with offstage voices and a conversational parrot that lingers through intermission, Woo manages to craft a storyline with ending that's recognizably close to poetic justice. Now that the playwright has seen this work placed so artfully on its feet, he might choose to discreetly trim some of the curlicues from his baroque plot -- or he might be satisfied with the current audience response and leave well enough alone. As the Triad Stage turntable whirled us from scene to scene, it seemed to be mimicking the cyclonic force of Woo's play: Debunked swirls with ideas and leaps jubilantly over logic and credibility, traveling at the speed of silliness.

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