Keeping up with appearances in elastic future's Beautiful and ACT's The Rainmaker
"Make my world beautiful," commands the (drag) queen (Flynn Witmeyer) of her corseted courtiers. The incantation naturally has something defiant and (given our location in a loft on Capp near 16th Street) maybe even a little urgent about it, summoning the new Eden as an unruly if royal realm of gender-blurring sexual role play and uninhibited frolic. Naturally too there's bound to be trouble in paradise, the intruder in this instance being no snake but rather a pair of slithering fish-head waiters. But in theater group elastic future's Beautiful it's a party all the same.
A "gender-bending theater party," to be exact, which the company first staged in a more limited run in 2005. Set in the round among a haremlike arrangement of sheer curtains and floor pillows on which audience members are encouraged to sprawl with a complimentary bottle of wine the play presents a campy battle between the forces of good sex and evil prudery, or liberation and conformity if you like, with the aforementioned fish-topped waiters (the impeccably over-the-top Meghan Kane and Christopher P. Kelley) meting out a snooty version of Old Testamentstyle chastisement with a lot of modern-style prying, voter pandering, and enhanced interrogation.
While the piece was reportedly revamped somewhat from the original, it's not entirely clear why the restive young company has chosen to revisit this early effort. (It has since brought out another cushion-and-two-buck-Chuck affair called The Greek Play, coproduced with Root Division in tandem with a like-themed gallery show, as well as a wonderfully original playcumrock show at the bar Amnesia about a famous real-life pair of sibling rock goddesses, The Unauthorized Autobiography of Kim Deal.) As a troupe bent on appropriating and reinventing the classics (whether of the past couple of millennia or couple of decades) in site-specific performances that eagerly engage audiences in the conceit, elastic future cultivates a certain brash fervor that excuses some retracing of its theatrical trajectory. That said, the production comes across as highly uneven in conception and execution. The script by company member and cofounder Sue Butler (who also penned Kim Deal and Greek) is fairly freewheeling but thin, surviving on animated one-liners (played for all their worth by the expressive Witmeyer) amid somewhat stilted dialogue and on other eccentric touches here and there. It lacks a satisfying degree of character and plot development, and for all of the heated foreplay, which at one point bursts forth into a riot of spanking, the play remains surprisingly tension free.
Beautiful bills itself as "The Rocky Horror Picture Show of the experimental theater world," and if that self-description seems to pull in opposite directions (having the paradoxical ring of something quaintly cutting-edge), it kind of fits nonetheless. The plot's mock battle between good and evil and decidedly unshocking transvestism and BDSM pantomimes, accompanied by a rock soundtrack only slightly more up-to-date than Rocky Horror's, amount to a harmless debauch akin to dress-up at the midnight screening. The "experimental" part of the outing, meanwhile, rests largely with the show's enthusiastic mesh of performance and party.
In American Conservatory Theater's production of N. Richard Nash's The Rainmaker, budding spinster Lizzie (René Augesen) may not be a great beauty, but she will gladly settle for being called pretty, a designation made to seem suddenly possible only by a barnyard brush with traveling salesman, charlatan, and stud Starbuck (Geordie Johnson). You'll know the story thanks to the cringingly saccharine yet admittedly fixating movie starring Katherine Hepburn and a wholly outsize Burt Lancaster. The surprise is in director Mark Rucker's wonderfully cast and perfectly pitched staging, which is a real beauty to behold. Augesen's assured and generous performance leads an ensemble effort that is melodramatic manna for three acts. *
Through Dec. 1
Thurs.Sat., 8 p.m. (no show Nov. 2224), $15 ($10 if dressed in drag)
180 Capp, SF
Through Nov. 25
Tues.Sat., 8 p.m. (also Nov. 21 and Sat., 2 p.m.); Sun., 2 p.m., $14$82
American Conservatory Theater
415 Geary, SF