Drew Droege in ‘Bright Colors and Bold Patterns.’ (Photo: Russ Rowland)
By Jim Gladstone
Who couldn’t use a virtual visit with someone who’s relentlessly, unapologetically Extra? Corona Extra, even?
As it happens, that’s the brand of beer that Gerry—a proud Mary—enters quaffing in the Broadway HD recording of performer-playwright Drew Droege’s laugh-packed solo show Bright Colors and Bold Patterns (“It tastes like I’m rimming Pepe le Pew.”)
After three hit Off-Broadway runs and a sold-out Los Angeles engagement between 2016 and 2018, this side-splitting but sneakily poignant 70-minute romp deserves to become a staple of queer-friendly theaters nationwide.
Droege, previously best known for his online spoofs of Chloe Sevigny, brings a relentless wrist-flapping, name-dropping efflorescence to his human confetti cannon of a character, who arrives at a Palm Springs poolside blasting unbridled old-school flamboyance at a new normative gay wedding celebration.
Gerry, clad in hot pink shorts and a palm print top, is a hard-drinking classic queen of the pre-mainstreaming era. He’s of a time, and a state of mind, in which withering Bette Davis quotes and vicious reads of one’s own best friends embodied gay pride more than picket fences or progressive pre-schools; the kind of sissy cisgender man who constitutionally can’t hide his twinkling pink light under a barrel, even when that might make life easier.
The play’s title refers to a what-not-to-wear note in the wedding invitation. Gerry, the personification of bright colors and bold patterns, takes umbrage (and much of the show) briskly ticking through a loosely organized litany of complaints about today’s gays, their hetero-assimilationist ways, their preferences in pop culture, and pretty much anything else that comes under the Paul Lynde-gaze of his bloodshot mind’s eye.
Droege’s tart, finely timed delivery makes the most of even his silliest jokes, railing against contemporary band names like “Portugal. The Man.” But it’s when he occasionally conveys the left-behind ache of a single, 40-something gay man whose old friends all seem to have coupled up, leaving him behind in a sparkly single-occupancy time capsule that the show briefly glimmers with unexpected gravitas.
The theatrical device of having Droege engage with other characters even though Gerry’s the only one on stage translates surprisingly well to video, in large part because he rarely lets anyone else get a word in edgewise. His performance is crisply directed by Michael Urie, whose own star-turn as Barbra Streisand’s hired hand in Buyer and Cellar set a high bar for solo queer comedies.
But even a sensitive actor-director like Urie and an undercurrent of tenderness in the writing can’t quite make this production into a play per se: It’s a well-turned hybrid of stand-up and sketch comedy with awkward transitions between scenes (Frantic strobe-lit dance breaks accompanied by drinking and coke-snorting).
But if Bright Colors and Bold Patterns isn’t truly a play, it does hit on some essential truths about gay life, particularly worth contemplating in light of the Supreme Court’s recent decision banning workplace discrimination. As queer people are increasingly accepted in American society, to what extent will we choose to sand off our quirky edges? When do eccentricity and camp serve as defensive armor versus joyful self-expression?
Drew Droege is impressively proud and provocative all at once.
Jim Gladstone is a freelance writer and creative consultant based in San Francisco.