When a show’s pre-performance announcements include the warning “Rated R for adult situations and fucking,” you know you’re in for something different. That something is Gothmas, billed as a “dark, holiday, horror, bisexual, romantic, funny, feel-weird rock musical for the whole family (no children).”  The show is indeed dark, and features holidays from Halloween to Thanksgiving to Christmas to Valentine’s Day—and horror (one character is axed to bits). A few characters are gay and one is bi.  It’s sometimes quite funny (in a weird sort of way), and the songs have a grunge rock sound to them. It’s certainly not for children nor is it likely for the average L.A. theater audience, but those who’ve made The Rocky Horror Show a cult hit may eat it up.

Co-writers/stars Kerr Seth Lordygan and Laura Lee Bahr play best friends, gay Garth and goth Helena, the latter of whom opens the show with a suicide attempt, one which will not be her last. Both actors have a quirky charm and despite their characters’ somewhat off-putting facades, they’re actually a likable pair.  Take for example the following exchange:

GARTH: (sincerely)  You shouldn’t kill yourself.
HELENA:  Whatever.

Garth’s mother Mabel is coming for a visit, so he asks Helena to be his beard. Mom’s overjoyed that Garth’s found someone.  She tells her son, “You saved her life.  She owes you,” and then adds some old-fashioned motherly advice:  “Be sure and pay the rent. You’re, the man, and she’ll be grateful.”

Garth’s attempts to come out are met with a deliberate lack of comprehension.

GARTH: Mom, I’m gay.
MABEL: I’ll be gay too when I have grandchildren.

When Mabel finally figures out what Garth is trying to tell her, she suffers a heart attack and ends up hospitalized. Meanwhile, Garth invites Helena to be his “crazy, depressed, delusional” roommate. “You’re going to be the best roommate slash beard ever!” he exclaims, and when she comments that it’ll be like Three’s Company, an excited Garth asks to be Joyce DeWitt.

Things go smoothly for a while, with both Garth and Helena falling in love with a wonderful guy. Unfortunately, it’s the same guy, Joe, whose bisexuality makes him attracted to both. In fact, Joe explains, “I can only be happy with both of you … a soulmate of each gender.”

If only someone weren’t so quick with an axe …

What I liked best in Gothmas were a number of its performances.  Besides the two likable leads, there’s some dynamic work by Broadway vet Sandra Purpuro and her cohort in rock Levi Packer.  The two serve as a kind of Greek chorus, commenting on the action, and occasionally participating in it.  Purpuro is as always electric, and cute/funny Packer amusingly parodies the gay male stereotype.  Adding sex appeal is hunky Latin heartthrob Kadyr Gutierrez as the bisexual lover of both lead characters.  If only his character would a) take off his shirt and b) show equal enthusiasm when kissing Garth as he does kissing Helena, and c) stick around for the second act.

Taylor Ashbook is Mabel, Garth’s mom from hell, who’d rather do anything than accept that her sonny-boy is gay. Hillary Prentice and Rebecca Lane play a pair of scantily-clad nurses (among other characters) who show up from time to time. Tony Pinizzotto has some funny moments as Helena’s brother Greg and as the bartender at gay bar The Manhole. Completing the cast are Kenlyn Kanouse and Chris Vose as Garth’s parents and Allie Costa as his younger sister Julia.

I rather enjoyed Gothmas’ first act. Justin T. Bowler’s direction is appropriately frenetic.  George “Drew” DeRieux’s songs are offbeat and some of them are pleasantly bouncy, though I had a harder time with others. Joel Rieck’s choreography is nicely quirky, and the cast (not all of whom are dancers) execute it enthusiastically. Marco De Leon’s set, Rebecca Bonebrake’s lighting, and Jeff Folshinsky’s sound design are suitably dark, though the show is often lit too dimly for my tastes. Lori Meeker has come up with some fun costumes.

Gothmas is a musical that defies both easy description and conventional critiquing.  At intermission, I was feeling mostly positive, my main complaint being that a ninety-minute first act was simply too long.  (There were about three times I assumed wrongly that it was the Act One finale.) With Act Two’s additional hour, however, this is a show that, for me at least, overstays its welcome and would benefit from a good half hour’s worth of cuts. Gothmas deserves snaps for daring to be different, for featuring a pair of lead characters not usually seen in a musical, and for some clever writing and a non-traditional music style. Ultimately, for this reviewer, it ended up more thumbs down than up, but younger, hipper audiences may well flip-flop that equation.

The Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., North Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
April 11, 2009
Photos: Rebecca Bonebrake

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