Reviewed by Ilana Novick
Anita Bryant has long been seen as a punchline: she’s most known for getting pied in the face by protestors who hated her anti-gay activism. But David Carl Lee wants to earnestly tell her story—Pie Face: The Adventures of Anita Bryant—and of how she affected his own identity as a gay man. His subtle use of drag allows us to mock her politics and take them seriously at the same time, and this makes Bryant’s transformation from a promoter of products (a beauty queen for orange juice) to a promoter of hate.
Lee’s got the dress, the big hair, and colorful makeup, but his gestures are restrained, and his voice is softened: he straddles the line between campy and sincere. He clearly hates her work, and yet he’s making a conscious effort to get inside her head, to understand her. When he portrays Bryant being pied, his lip quivers and his eyes widen in disbelief, as if empathizing with how that feels. But as the pies keep coming, the shows falls squarely into camp, and that’s when it goes downhill. Equal rights and gay marriage are timely issues, but the play doesn’t have enough time (or performers) to fully explore all of the issues it hints at. It seems rushed, the stage constantly turning from a hotel room (meant to represent Bryant’s national tour) to her home in Florida, to the Miss America set, using only a few changes in lighting, and barely any changes in furniture.
Also, the question remains why Lee would want to bring Bryant up in the first place—though the movement she led is very much alive, she’s more of a historical footnote now. In 2009, which Proposition 9 fresh in America’s memory, and slew of recent cases where states pass their own laws allowing gay marriage, it’s just not as satisfying seeing pies thrown in the face of the intolerant, no matter how successful they were in 1977. Despite a great performance from Lee, the play itself can’t quite maintain the balance of satire and biography.
Pieface (Run Time; Intermission(s)?)
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.