The New Century
Wed Apr 16 2008
Photograph: T. Charles Ericson
Time Out Ratings<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5
Paul Rudnick is pitching camp at Lincoln Center, and it’s worth catching. Like several of the playwright’s past works, The New Century espouses Rudnick’s merry twist on the notion of gay liberation: not merely that gay people must be liberated from a conformist society, but that this same society must be liberated in turn bygay people, or at least by a gay sensibility. When the outrageously fey Mr. Charles (the delicious Bartlett) is told that gays should “earn our place at the table” by being “normal and wholesome,” he can only snort with derision: “Darling, I set the table. I arranged the flowers.”
The New Century’s potpourri mixes a heavy dose of lavender with more sharply scented blooms. The first three of its four scenes are near-monologues by people caught in the crossfire of the gay-culture wars: The first is the lament of a Long Island Jewish mother with three gay children, played to perfection by Linda Lavin, who feeds Rudnick’s peerless one-liners to the audience on a Tiffany silver spoon; Mr. Charles’s slightly weaker segment comes next, followed by the tale of a kitsch-friendly Midwestern craftswoman, rendered with marvelous comic poignancy by Jayne Houdyshell. At times, especially toward the ends of the scenes, the comic exaggeration gets merely silly. But then again, The New Century as a whole—with its tacit defense of unnecessary extravagance, fleeting fashion, rococo wit, sexual incontinence and excessive emotional reaction—is a celebration of going too far. Rudnick makes frivolity a virtue.