Word of Mouth. – Coast Playhouse, West Hollywood, California – theater reviews
Written and performed by James Lecesne, directed by Eve Ensler (Coast Playhouse, West Hollywood, Calif.)
So you’ve never heard of James Lecesne? Don’t worry. You will. This openly gay actor and writer is a principal talent behind some of the most significant gay theater and film projects in recent memory. He created the title character and wrote the script for the short film Trevor, the teen coming-out story that won a 1995 Academy Award. He starred in the 1996 off-Broadway hit revival of The Boys in the Band. And he’s toured America with his award-winning original one-man theater shows.
Now Lecesne has hit Hollywood, where he may actually become the first openly gay actor to arrive in your living room via his own TV comedy series. Meanwhile, for those who don’t care to wait, Fox Television, where Lecesne is under contract, is presenting the actor onstage in a limited-run revival of his solo show Word of Mouth. It’s an evening of theater that showcases Lecesne’s charm as a performer as well as his knack for creating offbeat, entertaining characters–and it also contains the material that eventually became Trevor.
The play begins by introducing Frankie, a working-class clairvoyant from Queens, N.Y. The universe is full of human voices, Frankie tells us, explaining the psychic messages he picks up from the beyond. “When something big happens to you, you get broke open,” he says. “You get connected.” In Word of Mouth, we experience several lives, briefly “broke open and connected,” in a round-about series of stories meant to connect us in the end, not just to the stories but to a sense of our own shared humanity.
Nobody will ever do this kind of performance better than Lily Tomlin or Tracey Ullman. But if he can’t surpass these masters, James Lecesne is an actor in their league. He’s dazzling onstage, becoming other people, frequently women, without a hint of caricature. Though he’s a wicked drag comedian, that’s not his interest. He goes right past drag’s edgy conventions and into deeper territory. Making rich use of his own New Jersey roots, Lecesne brings hilarious life to Frankie’s household, which revolves around his mother’s home beauty parlor–and her memorable temper (“There’s a scream that’s working its way up from the bottom of my shoes!” she threatens when Frankie’s late for Mass). But he’s equally at home as a Georgia housewife seeking a faith cure for her daughter and as an ancient British lady remembering her years in Africa.
Lecesne is so sure of himself onstage that he can stage a rapid-fire fight between mother and son, choreographed as a kind of dance: He fires off an “Aw, Ma!” as butch Frankie; pirouettes; and lands as brittle, sexy Josie, already spitting, “Don’t you talk to me like that!”
Though Lecesne the actor makes no bones about his sexuality, Word of Mouth isn’t a gay show per se. Still, Lecesne reveals his gay heart for all to see in “Dear Diary,” the scene that introduces the character of Trevor. A sweet, conscientious teen, Trevor has a developing crush on a male classmate and a full-blown obsession with Diana Ross. After his schoolmates and parents discover his gay feelings and ostracize him Trevor attempts suicide, dramatically taking pills one by one to the accompaniment of Ross singing “Endless Love.” The scene could be a mawkish mess, but in Lecesne’s hands it’s a delight: Every time he hears his idol’s voice, Trevor forgets to be suicidal and starts voguing. Funny as this is–and it’s very funny–it’s also a telling metaphor. Trevor instinctively knows that for him, stepping out as Diana is the same as being alive.
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