Dallas — Playwright Alexandrew Recore’s Cooties is so much more than its juvenile name implies. For sure, there are emotionally stunted characters and fragile-toxic masculinity aplenty. But there are also a handful of interludes in which the characters struggle with becoming mature adults who are willing to be vulnerable with one another. Both aspects of the script are dynamically brought to life by a strong cast under Olivia Grace Murphy’s gutsy direction.
Produced by Flexible Grey Theatre Company, Cooties is paired with Bright Colors and Bold Patterns, a one-man show written by Drew Droege and starring Paul J. Williams. Both shows share the stage in Bryant Hall as part of Uptown Players’ Gay History Month Series.
Life-of-the-party Markus is played by Marcus Pinon, who lends a hint of charm to the otherwise man-child committed to a string of meaningless sexual conquests. Sinclair Freeman plays Markus’ best friend Donny, the athletic, masculine bro-dude who was so black-out wasted the night before that he can’t remember if, or with whom, he had sex.
Markus’ roommates are hot-to-trot lesbian Shayla and the shy virgin Rudy, played respectively by Bwalya Chisanga and Taylor Mercado Owen. Rounding out the cast are stalkerish neighbor (and Shayla’s sometimes boo) Carly, played by Allison Bret, and Markus’ “bitchy boss” Rebecca, played by Jacie Hood. Each one excels at comic timing and pacing.
An unidentified suspicious stain on the couch also has a starring role in this fun-natured raunchy comedy.
The script is punctuated by brief interludes where individual characters step out of the action. The first character to break through the facade on display for her friends and lovers is Shayla. She instantly and effortlessly transitions from the first scene into a poetry-slam-inspired trance that Chisanga completely owns. It’s as if the adult Shayla’s meant to be suddenly arrives on the scene where the hilarious farce of their puerile lives was just taking place. At first, the poem/music/movement interludes can be jarring. But after a while, the audience seemed to appreciate, and even look forward to, these reprieves from the otherwise madcap monkey business happening onstage.
Director Olivia Grace Murphy uses the space well. She keeps a handle on the chaos of Recore’s script as it jolts between overlapping farcical rapid-fire dialogue and interludes of poetic soliloquy or musical and terpsichorean recess. Assistant director Beth Gilvie’s choreography comes across as natural and not unnecessarily sophisticated for the characters, none of whom are supposed to be professional dancers. The movement feels like an outgrowth of each character’s personality in all of its unrefined awkwardness and hesitancy. The intimacy and fight choreography by Kelsey Milbourn are credible.
One of the strengths of the script is that it strips bare the stereotypes that the actors portray onstage. For example, from the instant we’re introduced to Carly, she’s pegged as the crazy ex-girlfriend. But over the course of the play, the audience becomes more sympathetic to her. In her interlude, we find out that she’s being driven crazy by Shayla’s hot-and-cold disposition. It is Shayla who’s been calling Carly to hook up, knowing full well that Carly is in love with her.
Scenic designer Dennis Canright creates the quintessential “shitty college apartment,” as the script describes. Kyle Harris’ lighting design aids in the abrupt transitions from farce to poetic reverie.
Cooties runs 90 minutes and is performed without an intermission. It’s another winning heartfelt production by Flexible Grey’s team. It’s especially nice to see the more veteran Uptown Players collaborate with them in their celebration of Gay History Month. Dallas is lucky to have two theater companies — on very different ends of the budget spectrum, with Uptown having around a million dollar annual budget and FGTC with, well, a much smaller one — committed to queer diversity and representation.
» Cooties runs in repertory with Uptown Players' production of Bright Colors and Bold Patterns
» Read our interview with Olivia Grace Murphy and Paul J. Williams
» Cooties is performed at 9 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday (Oct. 26-27)
» Bright Colors and Bold Patterns is performed at 8 p.m. Friday; 7 p.m. Saturday; 4 p.m. Sunday; and 8 p.m. Monday (Oct. 25-28)
» See our Proust Offstage video with Paul J. Williams here