“We celebrate things and make fun of them at the same time,” Gerry, the flamboyant middle-aged hero of Bright Colors and Bold Patterns, advises a 23-year-old. “That’s called gay.” And Gerry is gay—gay as a goose, gay as Provincetown, gay as a green carnation. He’s part P.T. Barnum, part Edward Everett Horton, part encyclopedic movie reference, and wildly passionate about everything he says. And plenty of what he says is outrageously funny. Played by the author, Drew Droege, Gerry (pronounced Gary) is a hoot to hang out with.
Droege’s solo show gets its title from the invitation Gerry has received to a gay friend’s wedding in Palm Springs, where he has just arrived poolside, with a drink in hand. There he finds his ex-boyfriend Dwayne, and Dwayne’s newest amour, the 23-year-old Mack, a buff young architect, both wearing Speedos. Fueled by drinks, drugs, and a well-masked insecurity, Gerry lets loose with opinions on gay marriage, ex-boyfriends, middle-aged men dating younger ones—and, of course, that invitation. It’s from their friend Josh, who is going to marry his boyfriend Brennan the next day. The invitation asks attendees to “refrain from wearing bright colors and bold patterns,” and Gerry is incensed. He blames the restraining order on Brennan’s mother, Harriet Newkirk, a society matron who, he says, prefers beige and taupe; he’s certain the instruction comes from her and is a way of acting out her disapproval of Brennan’s homosexuality. “Would somebody just show me, on the rainbow, where I can find khaki?” he demands.
Certainly it’s not on Dara Wishingrad’s poolside set, a riot of turquoise and orange, from beach umbrella to towels to flotation rafts to the throw pillows on the rattan furniture. The margaritas are served in deep green coupes embellished with tiny umbrellas, a lime wedge and bendable straws. The colors create an appropriately louche atmosphere that evokes Palm Springs even if one has never been there.
Droege’s performance, directed skillfully by Michael Urie (who won a 2013 Drama Desk Award for his own solo performance in Buyer & Cellar), is exuberantly comic; his writing has marvelously evocative phrasing. People who attend the Coachella music festival have “feathered earrings and intentional stench”—what a smartly alliterative description! Unlike Urie, who played multiple characters in Buyer & Cellar, Droege plays only Gerry, but he evokes the others by listening with consummate skill: perhaps subtly cocking his head or widening his eyes in surprise or agreement.
Droege is a dynamo in these interactive scenes, careening from topic to topic, and he is helped by staccato interjections in the writing (some seemingly improvised): “It’s good. It’s fine. Omigod. Wow!” or “I’m gonna say something! No, no, no, no, no—children! No, listen. I mean this. No, no. No, listen. No, listen!” He’s often a steamroller, but just as skillfully can backpedal, until Neil arrives—another ex-boyfriend of Dwayne’s, the one that Dwayne left Gerry for. The arrival leads to some introspection for Gerry. He and Dwayne never were really lovers, it seems. “We’d never defined what we were,” says Gerry ruefully.
It is perhaps that missed opportunity that has led Gerry to resent all notions of imitating straight people by demanding the right to marry. He is a throwback—a party animal who spent his youth celebrating sexual freedom in defiance of straight oppression. “What’s next?” he asks scornfully. “Are we all going to live in cul-de-sacs? Go to bed at 9 p.m.?” He has never settled down and never wanted to. Droege and Urie let one see the deep desperation Gerry is in, including a montage of behavior—chugging, vaping, snorting, urinating in a jardinière—that would make any sane prospect for a relationship run in the other direction.
Those moments, though deepening the work, are islands in an ocean of hilarious bits, especially Gerry’s references to pop culture—a schlocky TV movie called Invisible Child, with Victor Garber and Rita Wilson (look it up on the Internet!); a Steel Magnolias reference that segues to a tribute to Olympia Dukakis; and the short-lived cult TV series China Beach. They all predate Mack, so Gerry supplies the context, in spite of Dwayne’s apparent feeling that Gerry is condescending. “It’s irresponsible not to know the origins of Dana Delaney,” says Gerry defensively of the actress who starred in China Beach.
This is the second appearance of Droege’s show Off-Broadway this year, and it’s a welcome return. There are few shows playing now that are as consistently funny, but one hopes that he’s already working on a follow-up—that Bright Colors is merely a prelude to more works as richly comic as this.
Drew Droege’s Bright Colors and Bold Patterns plays at the SoHo Playhouse (15 Vandam St., between Sixth Avenue and Varick Street) through Jan. 7. For information on tickets (starting at $59) and show times, visit brightcolorsandboldpatterns.com.