At the beginning of Michael Tester's Blue Balls, the playwright-performer explains that he is both a descendant of a soldier who served under George Washington and the son of a professional clown. Tester's time with the NYPD indicates that he has inherited some of his ancestor's penchant for service, but in Blue Balls he displays an even greater inclination toward the antics of his father.
Tester can be quite funny as he describes growing up, vaguely aware of his gayness, and he delivers zinging observations with well-timed rapidity. Even when he's covering familiar territory — dreaded phys ed classes and locker room shenanigans — he evokes laughs. But when he turns to his experiences as a police officer, his broad comic stylings are less appropriate. They come across as a defense mechanism to avoid the anger and hurt caused by the homophobic abuse he suffered on the force, such as discovering his locker filled with urine.
When Tester describes the incident that would ultimately lead to his resignation (and his subsequent lawsuit), the comedic detachment of Blue Balls is most acute. Neither the full impact of a fellow officer's blatant racism nor the repercussions of Tester's decisions is felt.
Rye Mullis has directed with zest, though he is unable to overcome weaknesses in the structure of Tester's script, particularly the need for blackouts between sequences. From the quartet of performers surrounding Tester, Mullis has elicited some memorable performances: Alexandra Bosquet scores marvelously as a veteran of the Stonewall riots, and Vincent Ortega is particularly funny as a mincing Latino professor at the police academy.
Such characterizations amuse, but one can't help wishing Tester's script went deeper or were simply, pardon the expression, ballsier.
Presented by BroadwayClubhouse.com as part of the New York International Fringe Festival at the Flea Theater, 41 White St., NYC. Aug. 11-25. Remaining performances: Thu., Aug. 17, 4:30 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 19, 6 p.m.; Tue., Aug. 22, 4:30 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 25, 9 p.m. (212) 279-4488 or www.fringenyc.org.