If there’s one take-away from reading this review, it’s that I hope you walk by Richmond Triangle Players some evening soon.
In the window you’ll find a glittering light-up display made to look like Times Square, including fake billboards and a mock-up of One Times Square that’s destined to become the site of many an Instagram post this holiday season.
Sadly, I can’t say the show it advertises has the same appeal. Now playing at the East Coast’s longest continuously operating professional LGBTQ theater in the mid-Atlantic is “Times Square Angel,” an occasionally funny but mostly tedious play by gay theater icon Charles Busch.
The year is 1948, and club headliner Irish O’Flanagan has become callused by a lifetime of hard knocks. Bitchy and bitter, all she wants is to find some rich lug, settle down and spend his money before she loses her looks. As with many of his works, the original production of the show starred Busch himself. In Triangle’s production Irish is played by Wette Midler, the drag name of local actor Luke Newsome.
The plot apes the familiar Christmas miracle storyline: Like in “A Christmas Carol” and “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Irish is forced to look back on her life and its possible outcomes with the help of a spiritual being. The trick is that it’s done in the hard-boiled world of films like “Double Indemnity” and “The Maltese Falcon.”
In this case, Irish is visited by Albert (Jeffrey Cole), a guardian angel sent down from heaven to prove himself. Along the way, we learn that Irish is involved with the notorious gangster Chick LaFountain (Eddie Webster) and a plot to kidnap and ransom Valerie (Baylee Holloran), the daughter of a senator.
Directed by Melissa Rayford, this production feels like it’s attempting to be a straight telling of a story when it should be camp, and while Newsome exhibits suitable slink and sashay as Irish, he doesn’t have the commanding presence needed to carry the show. The supporting cast fares better, with Jeffrey Cole charming as Albert, the vaudeville magician who’s sent down from heaven as a guardian angel, and both Jeff Clevenger and Desiree Dabney amusing as multiple comic characters.
On the technical side, Mercedes Schaum’s set works, but more of it could have the detail of Irish’s dressing room. Lucian Restivo’s projections — particularly the black-and-white montage of the era at the start of the show — are excellent, and Alex Valentin’s period-inspired costumes are at their best with Michael Hawke’s sparkly numbers at Helen Sternhan, the faded star of the stage.
Following the play is a short lip-sync cabaret that’s chock-full of fun and inventive ideas. As with the glittering window display, I can’t say the same of the play that preceded it.
“Times Square Angel” plays through Dec. 21 at Richmond Triangle Players, 1300 Altamont Ave. For information, visit rtriangle.org or call 346-8113.