Review: Sex sells in darkly entertaining 'The Wild Party' at The Dio
A scene from The Wild Party, now playing at The Dio. Photo courtesy of Michelle Anliker photography
Pickney - Taking place at the pinnacle of the 1920s, Andrew Lippa’s award winning “The Wild Party” does a stunning job of transporting its audience back to the Roaring Twenties. Today, we live vicariously through the era with books, film, and theatre, seeing it through rose-colored glasses as a Gatsby-esque period of speakeasies and flapper culture; but amidst this was also a post-war America, slowly brimming with cultural, political, and economic pressure that eventually burst into the Great Depression.
And what a history making decade it was.
It’s easy to see why The Dio, a 70-seat professional grade theatre located in Pinckney, MI, would produce “The Wild Party.” Not only is this production filled to the brim with a smorgasbord of characters, and tackles themes like abuse, drugs, violence, and (perhaps most importantly) sexual escapades - it’s also rich with a narrative backdrop. The script is not immaculate but the performance is still demanding, which means you need the right cast.
The promise of a “wild party” is guaranteed with this production (a party in which the children need to definitely stay home) and it starts as you walk in and peek at the lavish set designed by Matt Tomich (he also provided the light and sound blueprints). Part of the magic of The Dio, has to be attributed to their unique viewing experience.
Aside from giving the viewer quality theatre, the venue is also a dining establishment; and your ticket purchase includes a full course buffet style dinner that’s extremely yummy (I’m no food critic, but I was impressed to say the least). Even the performers in the show greet you upon entrance, and may even take your drink order (there’s no alcohol served, but you can bring your own!) A daunting task, as the actor must step in and out of character diligently.
That feature is even more impressive once you see the production.
As for the show, “The Wild Party” centers around a gorgeous heartbreaker named Queenie (Elizabeth Jaffe) trying to solve a failing relationship that’s progressively fallen on dark and depressing times. The guy represents the repugnance of sleazeballs in the era (and to this day and age honestly) as Burrs (Steve DeBruyne) - a vaudevillian like clown who has trouble keeping his hands to himself. You can tell in the early days of their relationship that Queenie admired his spunk and bad boy charm, but now you see her desperation for a way out.
The solution? Throw an extravagant party and seemingly set your troubles aside (there are darker forces at play here, but those details are best revealed while viewing the show).
With prohibition still at its peak, it presents a night of loose and slick debauchery in which a group of high-class individuals participate in some risque activities. If you’re one who offends or shocks easily, it may not be the “party” for you, but even some of the darker elements are hard to resist.
But what’s a party without guests? This cast brings life to each and every ensemble member on stage. Like a rotating game of “Clue” or a character packed Agatha Christie novel, Lippa’s “Wild Party” brings forth quite the parade of memorable personas. Aside from Queenie and Burr rocking the earlier scenes, you’ve got (in no particular order) - the hot headed, and bulky heavyweight boxer Eddie (Jared Schneider) who best resembles Bluto from “Animal House;” an oaf that can be lovable, but will turn deadly on a dime; his passionate and sugar -sweet darling Mae (Monica Spencer); The D’Armano brothers (who are also lovers) are composers/entertainers with a flamboyant charm and attitude, played to perfection by David Moan and Logan Balcom; actress Sarah Brown who is a riot-and-a-half playing Madelaine True, an announced and sex-driven lesbian on the prowl for some companionship, whose song “An Old Fashion Love Story” is a giddy and memorable highlight.
Others include the lustful Kate (Lauren Landman) and her companion Mister Black (Mike Sandusky) who will become a major wrench in the plot revolving around Queenie and Burrs. In addition, ensemblist’s Auroa Batton, Brian E. Buckner, Lydia Adams, and Mark Vukelich earn their keep on the stage.
Are you still with me?
Throwing these characters (and their hidden agendas) under one roof is a recipe for chaos and promiscuity. While that’s respectful to an extent - in the small 70-seat Dio, it can become a bit cluttered and overwhelming. But credit needs to be given to director, artistic director, performer, and waiter Steve DeBruyne, (I can’t imagine he slept much during the rehearsal process) who tries to make this show accessible to its space. I was constantly impressed at the aesthetics and scenery that, despite some of the clunky staging, held its own. Likewise for Brian Rose’s solid eight piece orchestra and Norma Polks's sexy costume design that reflects the setting exceptionally.
And enough can’t be said about the cast and their vocal chops. Songs like “Raise the Roof” and “The Juggernaut” look and sound great, while conveying the type of suave veracity required for such a rowdy show. Not to mention the jittery and shifting styles and tempos of the score that can’t be easy to master.
As a result, “The Wild Party” is a rambunctiously energetic production, that successfully pushes the envelope of adults-only theatre. It might not be the best musical (or script) of its generation, but its one party you shouldn’t miss.
IF YOU GO:
"The Wild Party" continues through October 7th at The Dio. Tickets for all performances are available for purchase at diotheatre,com or by calling (517) 672-6009. Seating is limited. Advanced reservations are strongly recommended.