The conceit of "The Etiquette of Death" is that a Judy Garland-esque TV celebrity and makeup specialist named Joan Girdler is caring for her dying son (presumably stricken with AIDS, given the KS-type lesion painted on his neck) while absorbing the news of her own cancer diagnosis. When she meets Death, played by Quinton in a leather miniskirt and a shock of black hair, Joan tries to distract her with a makeover. A chorus of singing pigeons and a punk-rock monster sometimes interrupt the action, as do vignettes on the themes of death and dying.
Certain snatches of dialogue and pieces of music show genuine sophistication, but their power is dulled by the evening’s incomprehensible dramaturgy. Tanner and Quinton commissioned original music and sketches from 18 other writers, including Taylor Mac, John Jesurun, and Penny Arcade, but the pair have failed to organize these pieces into a coherent whole. The resulting mish-mosh, though riddled with good intentions, is not only boring but occasionally problematic. Joan’s son’s death spasms (impressively delivered by Brandon Olson) become an uncomfortable eyesore alongside the show’s more outlandish elements.
Most of the remaining performers are lackluster, as though the actors hope no one will notice them. Among the exceptions are Chris Sharp and the always-electrifying Quinton, while Tanner is charming but seems somehow disconnected from the proceedings. It’s difficult to blame him.
Presented by and at La Mama, Ellen Stewart Theatre, 66 E. 4th St, 2nd Fl., NYC. June 16-July 1. Thu.–Sat. 7:30 p.m. & Sun. 5:30 p.m. (No performance Sun., June 24.) (212) 475-7710 or www.lamama.org.