ORLANDO – “Theodore’s Super Fun Adventure” starts off as a gay-meets-cute comedy, has a wonderfully engaging performance by lead actor Mike Van Dyke, tosses out plenty of funny quips … and then it takes a radical, startling change in tone at the end.
The very light beginning is almost a bit misleading at first, and as I thought about the play afterwards, I realized I had missed the initial clues about the direction it was heading in.
But they were there from the start.
“Theodore’s,” now playing at the Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival, was written by local funnyman Bobby DeSormier and directed by veteran performer Rob Ward. It begins as a comedy about a nervous, socially awkward young gay man from the sticks, Theodore (Van Dyke), who just moved to the Big Apple, found himself an apartment above a local restaurant, and even has a gay bar right across the street.
As the play opens, Theodore is in that restaurant, pretending to eat his peas while actually trying to make a star out of them, and at the same time eying the cute waiter Dorian (played by Austin Paz).
Theodore then gets an introduction to the ups and downs of big city life when a haughty woman named Siobhan (played in a hilariously camped up manner by Kendra Musselle) arrives, looking defiant and elitist, and insists that the table Theodore is sitting at is her preferred table, and he needs to vamoose.
Poor Theodore, with his nervous ticks and inability to resists talking at a frantic, rapid-fire pace, doesn’t know what to make of her. And it’s even more surprising when Siobhan not only decides to join him rather than have him tossed out, but even takes a keen interest in Theodore — including the fact that he’s gay and trying to discover himself in a city filled with other gay people.
So far, so good — Musselle has some great one-liners in reaction to Theodore’s hysterical ramblings (check when when he describes the girl who seemed interested in him when she touched his shoulder — classic!) and Van Dyke has perfected his hyper, hey-I’m-really-an-average-guy routine to an art form.
What I missed, at first, was Theodore’s casual references to ’69 — um, not the, you know, but the year — and to the fact that the bar next door is called Stonewall.
If that doesn’t mean much to you, I’ll enlighten you. The Stonewall Inn, now just called Stonewall, is a legendary gay bar in the Greenwich Village area of Manhattan. It was the site of the Stonewall riots, a series of demonstrations by the gay community against a police raid that took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969. That moment in history is considered to be the birth of the modern gay rights movement, and today Stonewall is recognized by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission and was named the first U.S. National Monument dedicated to the LGBTQ-rights movement.
History lesson over, that ends up playing a much bigger role in “Theodore’s” than you’d initially expect.
So does another clue, when Siobhan casually says “Thank me!” and Theodore responds, “Don’t you mean ‘Thank God,’ ” and you keep in mind that the play is subtitled “A Divinely Sexy Comedy.” That’s all I’ll say about that one, although it does make you rethink the scene in the restaurant between Theodore and Siobhan.
When Theodore does finally leave the restaurant, he accidentally forgets to pay, and the waiter chases after him — knowing he lives right upstairs. But it turns out that our handsome waiter has more on his mind than just getting the check paid — and Theodore discovers that finding romance in the big city is much easier than in the sticks.
Later he hooks up with his neighbor Marsha (played exquisitely by Billy Thompson), a drag performer at the local clubs who insists that Theodore needs to celebrate his encounter with Dorian by having a drink — at Stonewall.
All four performers are excellent, and Van Dyke has a real skill for physical comedy. And if the change in tone at the end caught me by surprise, it got a standing ovation from the audience.
“Theodore’s Super Fun Adventure,” is, in the end, a lot of fun, but it’s worth noting that there’s more on DeSormier’s mind than just a zany comedy about love in an urban jungle.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com..