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theater: Real Phonies

The characters in the Firehouse's latest may not learn from their ways, but at least they're wickedly funny.

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The plot is not complicated. Evan Wyler (Jake Mosser) is a hot new writer. At the beginning of the play, a photographer (Rick Brandt) convinces him to take off his shirt, … la Peter Frampton, for use in a magazine. It's his first concession to fame.

Soon he is courted by Alexa, who dazzles him with dropped names and conspicuous displays of cash. She wants Evan to write the story of her life. Is Alexa on the level? Or is she working an elaborate scam? Though Evan is gay and Alexa is insufferable, after a kiss during a ferry ride he begins to fall in love with her.

Alexa is a curious central character. Except for the flashback scene, she endures no crisis, makes no choices, and is not changed by the events in the play. At least she's endlessly entertaining as Steinberg smokes her way through the role. She strikes poses, squeals delight by saying "Happiness," and stretches her long vowels around a Manhattan block. As a performance piece alone, the show works fine.

Mosser's performance is more uneven as he registers but one emotion at a time. He becomes more interesting when he vows revenge upon Alexa. Otherwise, there's little opportunity to invest any sympathy in his character.

The secondary performances are outstanding. Stephanie Kelley, Rick Brandt, and Nicole Pintal play a variety of obnoxious characters who all pursue fame in one way or another.

Beauregard Rue Marie is especially good as three different characters. He's funny as an effeminate salesman in a clothing store, shockingly violent as Skunk, a British rock 'n' roll singer, and, as artist Michael Stabinsky, he adds a much-needed dose of humanity to the proceedings. The story of Michael and Alexa is more interesting than the story before us but is covered in just a few minutes.

The play is charming despite its flaws. Beane's dialogue cuts down the usual suspects (David Bowie, Andy Warhol, record producers, film agents, etc.). It also sneaks numerous clever laughs through the back door and never takes itself too seriously. Director David Denson does a nice job with the overlapping dialogue and the tableau-like arrangements of a few scenes.

Some of the story takes place at the Paramount Hotel, the center of cheap chic in New York. Many of the elements in Tim McMath's set and Teresa Heinbaugh's lights can be found in the Philippe Starck designs you find there: the layered sleekness, neutral tones, minimalist furniture, and the glowing green interior of the elevator car among others.

Though the play certainly speaks to the emptiness of celebrity, the abrupt ending undermines the theme and leaves us with a message that's a tad askew: It's OK to worship at the altar of fame — as long as it's washed down with a gulp of cynicism. Apparently, a sip or two of designer water is just not enough. S



"As Bees in Honey Drown" runs through May 18 at the Firehouse Theatre Project, 1609 W. Broad St. Tickets cost $15. Call

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