Dan Savage's 'Miracle'
The party started before the play began. As the audience filed in for the premiere of Dan Savage’s Miracle! at Intiman last Saturday, the actors milled around the space, inviting people onstage for Jell-O shots. A giant banner hung above the stage promising, this play will offend. NC-17 warnings decorated the lobby.
One would expect no less from Savage, infamous for his vivid sex column among other things, and a play based on the idea of Helen Keller as a drag queen. It’s a ridiculous and hilarious premise—and the ensuing performance delivered a satisfying bounty of buoyant one-liners and saucy puns.
Miracle!’s drag queens delighted in the absurdity of this play, escorting the audience through the drama of the drag club to Hellen Stellar’s newfound communication and good behavior. Aside from some mismatched lip-synching, they demonstrated impeccable comedic timing wrapped in sequins, fur and spandex.
Marc Kenison supplies wonderful over-the-top choreography in the styles of Judy Garland, Chaka Kahn and a crunk RuPaul, and the bootylicious bodysuit costume designer Erik Andor created for Timothy McCuen Piggee (as Gloria Blaze) is itself a miracle of faux curves and leopard print. Andor clearly had a field day with this show and its bevy of twinkling gowns, boobs made of a halved Nerf football and a headpiece built with Beanie Babies.
Jonathon Pyburn’s Hellen Stellar was a brave, believable work of physical performance—his limbs all akimbo, eyes crossed and costume pieces looking as if arranged by a psychotic five-year-old refugee. Under all that artiface, Pyburn managed to peek through and bring humanity to the roll—so much so that by the end I felt just a little bit weepy. Unfortunately, Hannah Victoria Franklin as special education teacher Annie Sullivan failed to match his conviction, rendering a hokey, flat foil to Hellen’s campy eccentricity.
Miracle! relies heavily on the conventions of bar theatre, making constant use of a very broken fourth wall through which the actors spoke and winked directly to the audience to uproarious effect. (I won’t soon forget Burton Curtis’ hysterical “wheeling.”) Amid the witty banter, the show touched on compelling tensions, e.g., gay men vs. lesbians, old queens vs. young queens, disability vs. homosexuality. But none of those ideas ever really went anywhere.
The script began with a torrent of Savage’s salty prose and linguistic invention, but before long the play itself dissolved into something less substantial, an elaborate cabaret number strung together with a few clumsy plot devices. These shortcomings didn’t prevent the show from being entirely entertaining—it is—but they did get in the way of it becoming something more.
This is the kind of theatre that emphasizes experience (yes, you really did just see that) over ideas. And strangely enough, even with a few graphic gags, it isn’t the least bit offensive to anyone who’s ever spent 20 minutes on the Internet. Maybe Savage doesn’t realize the impact of his own column, books, tours and talks—because even barstool sodomy passes for normal these days.
Miracle! runs through Aug. 25 as part of the Intiman Theatre Festival. Pictured above: Burton Curtis as Crystal Pain. Photo by Chris Bennion.