Review: The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told by City Theatre Company
by Michael Meigs

Paul Rudnick's play is cleverer and better crafted than you might suspect, given all the no-neck scandal over his playful recasting of biblical stories in goofy, unabashedly gay terms.  The company plays the first act hysterically over the top, with flamingly naughty versions of the creation story and of the tale of Moses and the pharaoh, and almost -- almost -- a lesbian immaculate conception.


Austin Rausch, Marco Bazan (photo: City Theatre)Adam and Eve become Adam and Steve, for example.  In the paradise created progressively by hat disengaged female stage manager  ("Cue third day!"), they find one another dressed only in green jockstraps with fig leaves, and they explore the unexplained deights of the body like a couple of unsupervised kindergartners. The stage manager calls a timely blackout when the boys check out one another's little things, but we do get an eyebrow-raising simulacrum of anal intercourse.



Adam (Austin Rausch) follows his tempted curiosity out of the garden, plunging them all into the harsh world.  Two women, firmly attached to one another, turn up -- Jane and Mabel  (cf., Cain and Able, though the only close resemblance is in the names).Through their comic trials, flouncing Adam and sweet-natured Mabel (Chrissy Shackleford) intuit something more, something spiritual, but they're never quite able to express it. Neither matter-of-fact Steve (Marco Bazan) nor grumpy Jane (Katie Blacksmith)is buying that idea.  Adam catches his breath, stunned with the happiness of the present moment and yearning to celebrate and to express thanks to someone - something.  God?  "Not in my house," returns Steve, his mouth tight and dismissive.


Pretty goofy.  That first act could spin out in any gay improv scene.  We all know those bible stories,and many a performer has lampooned them, from medieval itinerant actors to Mark Twain to Bill Cosby to Eddie Izzard.


Rudnick's second act saves this script from irrelevance.  Dated in the 1990's, the story opens in a Manhattan loft.  Adam and Steve are about to host friends for Christmas.  Adam, still as sweetly swishy as in the garden of Eden, fusses over the last preparations.  The friends who arrive for the gathering resemble closely the biblical caricatures from Act I.  Their quips, peculiarities and personalities fit together smoothly.  Lesbians Jane and Mable are expecting a child.  Mable glows with anticipatory delight as pregnant Jane shows a grim endurance.


Rudnick brings back many of the jokes and attitudes from Act I.  We learn tyhat our effusive protagonist Adam is a kindergarten teacher for an ultra-liberal school of the Upper West Side, and that he has just scored a triumph with the parents by staging a gay-friendly, ecumenical holiday pageant with his teeny tots.


At that point, if you're actively engaged, you may hear a mental click as things snap into place.  And another one when Adam reprises the lines about the happiness of the present moment being almost too much to bear.  We are in Adam's mind -- meaning not only that of Adam the cosmopolite but also that of Adam the symbol of us all.  This funny, vulnerable, clueless guy is fumbling for meaning and faith, and the best he could do in Act I was his confused, imaginary interpretation of biblical stories.  In Act II Adam is surrounded by real people in a largely gay milieu, all of them trying in one way or another to deal with those same enduring mysteries -- conception, pain, birth, love, happiness and death.  Adam's search becomes more urgent but no more targeted when AIDS comes into this tidy apartment.


Katie Blacksmith, Chrissy Shackleford (photo: City Theatre)

Panelists at last Sunday's talk-back commented that the play was essentially about love, but I think they missed the significance of that bizarre central character brought belatedly into Act II.  Rabbi Sharon, the handicapped wheelchair-bound lesbian, is a tele-evangelist of sorts, exponent of a vaguely Jewish brand of optimism in the face of the inexplicable and the menacing.  She blesses the union of these partners and consoles all of them in their comic confusion.


Maybe she's the voice of God. . . certainly a more human, humorous and engaged presence than droll Renee Brown as the indifferent stage manager imagined by Adam in the first act.


Rudnick's aggressive silliness provides some exuberantly juvenile jokes.  The core four meet two other couples who describe for them the mechanics of heterosexual intercourse ("Oooh, yuck!").  Pharaoh may be a king, but he's also a flaming old queen with young Moses as his best boy.





Marco Bazan, Austin Rausch, Scott Poppaw, Chrissy Shackleford, Katie Blacksmith (photo: City Theatre)


The core four are attractive young people, well matched by director Daniel Lafave, and we easily accept the couples' relations. Austin Rausch and Marco Bazan as Adam and Steve play both extremes well.  Rausch, particularly, takes impressive risks in pushing Adam into inflated caricature in the first act and then bringing him back in the second to a sympathetic portrayal.  Bazan is always the steadier and the more restrained of the two.  Chrissy Shackleford as Mabel and Katie Blacksmith as Jane are plausible foils to them.  Blacksmith, caught in the toils of labor and delivery, has a sour, vigorous and sublimely effective monologue, recalling for me James Thurber's observation, "Humor is emotional chaos remembered in tranquility."



There are some fine character shticks here -- Scott Poppaw as both Pharaoh and Trey the seasonal Santa Claus has impressive presence, spiced with long-suffering cynicism and terrific comic timing.  Elizabeth Bigger plays Peggy the irrepressible Mormon with chirp, tolerance and mischief.  And of course, Amber Moreno as Rabbi Sharon, whose message is so funny and easy to take that one might easily overlook the fact that it constitutes the theme of the piece.




 Review by Bastion Carboni at, June 16
  Review by Ryan E. Johnson at, June 16

  Review by Katherine Kloc for the Daily Texan, June 16

 Review by Barry Pineo for the Austin Chronicle, June 24

Feature stories about protests of City's production of The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told

L.A. Progressive report about the campaign against the production, May 22



View program of The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told by Paul Rudnick at City Theatre



The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told
by Paul Rudnick
City Theatre Company

June 10 - June 25, 2010
City Theatre
3823 Airport Boulevard
Austin, TX, 78722