WeHo gay boy Zackery has just accidentally run over a fellow WeHoian named Patrick—twice, and confesses to his best bar buddy Barry that he feels “kinda bad” about killing the stranger, who like Zackery was out cruising for sex. Meanwhile, 3000 miles away, Patrick’s alcoholic muumuu-wearing mother is given the bad news by her surviving son Marcus.  In a “Mom always liked you best” moment, Mother tells Marcus, “Don’t take this personally. I love you both equally, but he was my   favorite.” She decides to fly west to arrange his funeral.  “But you hate to fly,” protests Marcus. “I’ll fly,” insists Mom. “He’s my only son.”

Thus begins Cell Phone Funeral, an often very funny culture clash comedy where straight meets gay and, despite a rocky ride, both come to understand each other a bit better in the process.

Zackery (Gabriel Loup) and Barry (Jason Frazier) decide to head over to the “Six Feet Under Spa” where Patrick is laid out, not to pay their respects but to see if the deceased was cute or not.  Back east, drunken Mom (Trudy Forbes), who keeps mini- liquor bottles tucked down her cleavage, has been visited by conservative sister Muriel (Meredith Thomas).  Muriel notices a boozy smell in the air.  “It must be that perfume you gave me,” explains Mom.  “The one called Eau de Corner Bar?” retorts her sister.

Marcus (JP Hubbell) has accompanied Mom and Aunt Muriel out west to hide Patrick’s extensive porn, dildo, and butt plug collection. The Broadway paraphernalia he can leave be. “Well, he certainly did love musicals!” declares Muriel, to which Mom responds, “I told you he was a homo.” When it turns out that Patrick didn’t keep an address book, his cell phone and phone bill become the only way to contact friends, and an invitation to visit the funeral parlor is sent to one and all.

The owner of the funeral spa is a flamboyant Latino named Salvatore (Mauricio Sanchez), who dresses in black velvet and rhinestones, and sings love songs to himself in Spanish.  Salvatore is aghast when he learns that “every queen he gave his number to when he was drunk” has been invited. 

The first to arrive at the spa is statuesque Latina drag queen Chardonnay (Aaron Barrera aka Chacha Cache), her bouffant hair a glorious blonde mane, wearing a black and silver mini-dress and knee-high rhinestone boots.  It turns out that Patrick was the only one who talked to Chardonnay like a real person and “saw through this bullshit.”

Next to arrive is Leo the Bathhouse Manager (Hubbell again), who’d like the $1500 Patrick owed him for his frequent sex visits.  Was Patrick a pervert or just a good customer?  “Your boy was a sweetheart,” Leo tells Mom. “Otherwise I wouldn’t be $1500 in debt.”

In a quick costume change, Hubbell returns as Father Bobby.  “Yeah, I do some priesting,” he tells the sisters, who are shocked to learn that Bobby and Patrick were “intimate friends,” “FWBs,” “friends with benefits.” “But you’re supposed to be sleeping with young boys!” protests Mom, though she takes comfort in knowing that since Patrick was born and raised a Catholic, at least he wasn’t having sex “outside the faith.”

Alberto (Carlitos DeSouto) is the next to arrive, the 16th “brown man” to visit Patrick’s coffin today but the first who can speak something other than Spanish. “They look at me and say ‘No Nintendo’ or something,” a perplexed Muriel tells him. Since Alberto does hablar ingles, he is able to reveal to the sisters that he hoped that he and Patrick would one day get married, despite the fact that Patrick was more interested in one (or two) night stands with men whose language he did not speak.

When a “normal looking woman” (Melony Mack) shows up, only to scream   “Bastard!” at Patrick’s coffin, Mauricio reveals that she’s “just an angry woman.  She does that at all my services.”

Finally, Zackery and Barry arrive, accompanied by a muscular but mincing/lisping angel (Akiva David as Queen’s Conscience). Zackery reveals a bitter, cynical side when he declares that “the majority of us are alone at any given time.”  Later, feeling bad about the negative impression they have left with Mom, the two queens return incognito to perform a selfless good deed, leading to a thankfully gay positive ending.

Cell Phone Funeral, directed with verve by Julie Nunis, blends comedy with drama, and there is much truth in playwright John Patrick Trapper’s writing.  Though the blend is at times awkward, the dramatic scenes, and even some of the funny ones, reveal much about the characters who make up the cast.

The more time the sisters spend together, the more we learn about their conflicted relationship.  Older sister blames younger for all her troubles. “Being a drunk is the only thing that’s gotten me through,” she reveals, to which younger sister responds, “You see a bartender.  I see a pharmacist. Meds have gotten me through.”  Later, Mom wonders if she could have influenced Patrick to make better friends, to which Muriel reveals that her own son, Stanley Jr., has moved to Australia, the farthest away he could possibly be. Even more will be revealed later about Stanley Sr.

There’s a good deal of anger in Cell Phone Funeral, expressed especially in Zackery’s cynical comments about the shallowness and loneliness he perceives in the gay community. There’s also a celebration of diversity, and of letting people be who they are without judgment.

Giving the standout performance of the evening is Thomas, whose Muriel seems always based in truth. Despite having the less sympathetic role, Thomas makes us care about, and like Muriel, despite her prejudices. Forbes has a number of truthful moments as Mom, and cries real tears as does Barrera as Chardonnay, whose breakdown is unexpected amidst the frivolity.  Frazier exhibits a natural charm and ease as Barry, and scores bonus points for his endearing 11th hour surprise reappearance, as does Loup, who is very funny indeed in his “costume change.”  Sanchez does good work as the ever cheery Salvatore, as does Hubbell in his trio of roles.

Donato Karingal has designed a colorful “Funeral Spa” set, though the script’s requirement of six other earlier locations does lead to some longer than desirable scene changes. (Fortunately, once we’re at the Spa we stay there.) Anthony “tonet” Abrilla’s lighting is effective, and the uncredited costumes are flamboyant when flamboyance is de rigueur.

Though not a perfect play (the transitions between comedy and drama could be smoothed out), Trapper’s clearly personal work has much truth in it. And with lines like “Handsome is the first sign of gayness,” there is much to entertain in this most unusual funeral.

The Actor’s Playpen Theatre, 1514 N. Gardner St, Los Angeles. 

–Steven Stanley
April 11, 2008

Comments are closed.