Eternal Flamer, part of the 2022 Fresh Fruit Festival a review by Yvonne Tutelli, The Theatre Tattler
What ever happened to the classic great American melodrama? I thought it was a lost theatrical form, until I stumbled into Fresh Fruit Festival’s 20th Year Celebration of everything queer, LGBT; Trans, this or that. The Mother’s Day performance of Eternal Flamer found me surrounded by a packed house, processing my pronouns while I literally laughed my socks off.
Just what we all need, I’m a-thinkin’ after the real news on the street.
Expert direction by Amy Marie Seidel brought to life this predictably assorted group of characters, comically crafted by playwrights James Tison and Tommy Jamerson, who built the jokes to fly. Both have sizable resumes including stand-up comedy stints, drag, and even comic children’s shows. Their genius is on full display in this gender-busting tale of an innocent hero whose rise and fall are all wrapped-up-with-a-big-bow happy ending. They don’t make ‘em any funnier.
Here we have the fast moving set in 1980‘s NYC saga of young Jesse Blade (AC Quagliato), leaving his God fearin’ large and lovely Mama (Ivana Black) behind for a new life beneath the Broadway stars. But stardom doesn’t come easily to this young striver. Every soon-to-be-working dancer needs a job and a place to stay in the big bad city and Jesse is about to have more than one encounter with the city’s seedy underlife. In his innocence, Jesse meets The Madam, (lovingly portrayed by Joshuah Dominque) who provides a residence, an opportunity to perform, and several other opportunities to make his way to the big time.
Tasha Williams owns her role as Muffy “I’m so lonely” Diver, club impresario, as so does Madison Mayer wearing multiple hats as Monica, Muffy’s hilarious assistant, a true comic stand-out– as well as claiming dramaturg duties on the Flamer project.
And speaking of owning it, featured dancer Marcus Zebra Smith’s twirling rasta-headed dance moves and grooves light up the fast-moving farce. So, indeed, does all of the sweat-banded hot pants choreography provided via the talents of Nigel Semaj and Alesandra Genieve Carter who kept the 80’s and Fonda workout moves happening from start to finish.
Billie Panache, played by Keith Arthur, is simultaneously evil and comic, a mean, butt-fucking dilly of dancer, luring young Jesse into the den of Gomorrah, a nasty nasty night club. Panache is the classic villain in this queer melodrama playing rough and tough, enticing the young Blade for his own sordid pleasure.
David Rivas plays Rudy with aplomb, and dresses the show to perfection from Mamma
Blades over-the-top large mama get-up to Billie Panache’s performance attire. The 80’s
was well represented in big hair and rat-tails, workout clothes, to drag, all in fine male
strip club style.
Hats off to lighting Designer Danny Viola and Stage Manager Rebecca Fisher who both
had a lot on their hands with all the comings and goings of the many personalities
gracing Wild Project’s stage.
All’s well that ends well in all melodramas, and Eternal Flamer is no exception. Young
hero Jesse makes his way to the city of bright lights, meets the villain, and is fallen in
love with by the bodacious Madam. But amidst a brush with fame as a dancer, he
succumbs to the nasty perversions of the era. After a run of success, he snorts himself
into oblivion, only to find himself once again at the bottom of the heap in the city that
Tough love is the name of the Madam’s game, as she begins to try to name her feelings
for young frosh Jesse. Mama Blade shows up to reunite with her son, getting it all
straightened out, as much as she can for all the gay gay gay familial ties that unite the
family that definitely doesn’t pray together….
Without totally giving away any plot twists, let me just say this is: Eternal Flamer is best
and gayest fun you can have in 90 minutes! Packed with double entendres, every
predictable hilarious play on words pursuant to the community it celebrates, Eternal
Flamer has a long life ahead of it. It could run on Fire Island for summers into perpetuity
or find its way uptown, no problem.