Dallas — Flexible Grey Theatre Company continues to expand their theatrical horizons while also expanding the minds of Dallas audiences. Their current workshop production of Alice Stanley’s outrageously funny queer farce Lipstick is being staged fittingly at Stomping Ground Comedy Theater in the Design District. It runs approximately 75 minutes with no intermission.
Stanley, who uses they/them pronouns, is currently working toward their MFA in directing from the University of Texas at Austin. They describe the show as a “play-shaped love letter to the queer community.” Though some elements are based on Stanley’s own experiences, more importantly, the play pushes the formal boundaries of farce, which historically has relied on sexist, racist, heteronormative, and even homophobic tropes.
The play is set in contemporary New York City, specifically in an apartment shared by Anna and Mal. Anna is getting ready for a date with Kelly, a woman she met at yoga. But since this other woman’s sexuality is still an open question (after all, Kelly wears earrings and boots), Anna worries that their evening together will be nothing more than platonic girl time. Her fierce roommate Mal, whose own sexuality is less a question mark and more an exclamation point, seems torn between helping Anna stage the perfect romantic date and using the apartment to entertain guys he finds on a dating app.
The chemistry between Cameron Casey and Rodney Morris, who play Anna and Mal, respectively, helps to propel the fast-paced plot. Their commitment to their characters establishes the dynamic that unfolds and eventually unravels into the tightly controlled chaos that ensues.
Kristen Lazarchick plays the sexually questioning Kelly with enough nuance and generosity to prevent her confusion from turning into the mere butt of a joke. With so many over-the-top characters and situations, the audience easily sympathizes with her, rooting for a sexual awakening on her own terms.
Some of the funniest moments of the play are a consequence of the impeccable timing of Whitney LaTrice Coulter and Matthew Talton. Coulter plays Cara, who à la Friends’ Rachel Green, leaves her fiancé at the altar in hopes of rekindling the relationship with ex-girlfriend Anna. Matthew Talton plays Anna and Mal’s landlord. Later, we learn he’s also reformed homophobe Albert, who is also Kelly’s long-ago presumed dead father. And the confused identities and family relationships don’t end there!
Rounding out the cast are Brenda Allison as Mal’s mother Dorothy, who has newly arrived in New York City to see the sights—all of them—before heading back home the next day, and “Chief” Krishawna Belle as a whole stable of potential hook-ups from a dating site called Bandit.
There were two particularly show-stealing scenes that brought the house down on opening night. One was the opening of a veritable Pandora’s Box of –er, let’s call them “lifestyle enhancers.” If you happen to sit in the front row, you might even get your hands on one. The other was a slow-motion phone toss that, thanks to Belle’s intervention, went off without a hitch.
Marcus Pinon directs the antics while also serving as both sound and set designer. You may remember that Pinon also directed a staged reading of Lipstick for Kitchen Dog Theater’s New Works Festival last year.
The acoustics of the space mean that there is an adjustment period necessary for the audience’s ears to adapt once the play begins. That, and some slight pacing problems at the beginning on opening night, when it seemed lines were rushed, are the only technical issues worth mentioning.
Lighting design is by Jason Monmaney, who also serves as stage manager. Such technical multitasking gives further evidence that Flexible Grey productions are truly labors of love.
In addition to Lipstick, there are other upcoming opportunities to catch Flexible Grey in what they’re calling their bonus shows. On Tuesday, June 18, you can catch them at Wild Detectives in Cheers to New!, which is part staged reading, part drinking game. And then at the Pride Block Party in the Arts District, on Friday, June 21, Flexible Grey will be performing Breaking the Binary: A Bisexual Millennial Confessional at both 7 and 9 p.m. at the Dallas Museum of Art. Finally, their production of Sky’s the Limit will be featured at this year’s Festival of Independent Theatres later this summer. Come out and support one of Dallas’ newest and most flexible theater groups.