Presented by the Drama Dept. at the Greenwich House Theatre, 27 Barrow St., Oct. 3-28.
Paul Rudnick's "Rude Entertainment," presented by the Drama Dept., knows not to overstay its welcome. It consists of three short one-acts which make their point quickly and wittily. "Mr. Charles, Currently of Palm Beach" has been performed at Ensemble Studio Theatre with the irreplaceable Peter Bartlett in the title role. He appears again as the unashamedly fey host of a late-night cable show, answering questions on gay life. "What causes homosexuality?" one viewer writes. "I do," answers Mr. Charles. "I am so deeply homosexual that I can cause someone to turn gay with a look" and he then shoots a stare into the audience. "That was easy," he quips.
Mr. Charles has been exiled from New York ("There was a vote," he declares) because the politically correct elements of the gay community find his outrageous flamboyance embarrassing. He refuses to turn down his flame and defiantly continues to burn brightly.
The middle piece "Very Special Needs" is a spiky sketch on gay couples acquiring adopted children as if they were furniture accessories. The final piece is the edgiest. "On the Fence" is peopled with the unlikely trio of Matthew Shepard, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Paul Lynde. It cleverly examines our assumptions about cultural icons; how gays are perceived and treated; and the very nature of good and evil. Laughs turns to uncomfortable titters and squirming as the tables are turned on the audience. This is what good theatre is all about: asking hard questions, examining our fears and culture. (Although perhaps the questions asked were a little tough at this trying time.)
Christopher Ashley's insightful direction matches Rudnick's pithy, rapid-fire salvos of social commentary. Bartlett is precise and hilarious as are Neal Huff and Harriet Harris. Allen Moyer's three sets are attractive and evocative while Gregory A. Gale's costumes afford a few laughs of their own.
"Rude Entertainment" is three short quick jabs, hitting us in the funny bone, the head, and the heart.