Gangster Rap

It seems that, nowadays, the twentieth century is not to be looked to in reverence, or wonder, but in mockery. Plays that take place in a fixed point in recent time satirize the look and mindset of the era (a la Xanadu), and an original piece set in days of not-too-old makes as much of a statement about then as now." Grayce Productions' latest, Say Your Prayers, Mug!, puts a little too much effort into the joke and not enough faith in the material, resulting in a slightly forced show. In Say Your Prayers, Mug!, writer/co-director/actor Todd Michael dallies in two eras: New York in 1954 and in 1935. As he and Thom Brown portray Dottie Haines and Skip Rayburn, the glamorous married co-hosts of a '50s morning movie program, they seethe with dysfunction, stir up jealousy, and shamelessly hawk the products of their sponsors.

Their interplay is interspersed with scenes from the titular '30s gangster drama, in which police sergeant Dan Gargan tries to put away Sonny Rocco and his gang while also trying to resist the wiles of no-nonsense broad Platinum Kane. Their patter is stuffed five ways to Sunday with the rat-a-tat-tat slang of the era. (Playwright Michael clearly knows his way around a colloquialism.)

All of this winking self-awareness becomes wearying as the show wears on, especially since there are a few genuinely funny moments when bits of dialogue are played straight. Anyone who's ever seen a film that takes itself too seriously knows how humorous something can be when it's not trying. Granted, by writing something that could be deliberately construed as pompously amusing, one is trying - but not as hard as an actor affecting an overdone ethnic accent or a male performer playing too much the bitchy female. (For a master class in period acting by a man in a woman's role, see anything starring Charles Busch.)

Notable in the cast are Jimmy Blackman as Sgt. Gargan and Jill Yablon as Platinum Kane. Blackman's Humphrey Bogart-esque hangdog face and straight man delivery mostly triumph over the style of the piece. Jill Yablon has the requisite smoky voice and icy blonde demeanor of the love interest, and could pass for an actress of the era.

The show is set in a theater but relies too heavily on a theatrical style. Characters enter and exit awkwardly, rather than "appearing" in the way that they do on TV and in the movies. If style parody is the game, why not mimic the rigid blocking of single-camera films, or rely on the multi-camera staginess of the television program?

Besides the great use of jargon in the movie script, the one other aspect of the homage that is executed flawlessly is the costuming. David Zwiers has put together a great selection of glad rags, particularly Dottie Haines' fuschia dress and nightclub singer Kitty De Villiers' blue polka-dot number. All of the ladies' wigs are also perfectly selected.

The current trend in pop culture is that "sincerity is the new irony." It's now socially acceptable to admire something or someone outright, with a commentary-free homage. Were Say Your Prayers, Mug! to allow itself to be as sincere and as adoring as it clearly wants to be, the show would become more than a snarky look at our past, and instead be a sentimental look at ourselves.

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