By Austin Yang
Note to engaged couples: If there are gay men on your wedding list, don’t run the risk of asking that they “refrain from dressing in bright colors and bold patterns.” The spiky reaction of one affronted invitee just might sow the seeds for a solo show that is the tragicomedy of the season.
Enter said invitee, Gerry Howard (Drew Droege): A motormouthed fireball of an Angeleno whose wit is as forthright as his titanic presence. Armed with cocaine, margaritas, and his encyclopedic knowledge of 90s pop culture, this life-of-the-party wedding guest is ready to brighten, color, and embolden the fastest 80 minutes of any audience member’s life.
“Honey, we celebrate things and make fun of them at the same time. That’s called gay.” Bright Colors does the very same thing. Arriving the evening before a gay wedding in Palm Springs, Gerry takes the wedding invitation’s discouragement of flashy attire as a personal affront, and is not afraid to dispense “pure shade” at those he deems responsible, especially when the wedding itself is between two men. And you better believe that with a guest list including his ex-boyfriend, the latter’s new young lover, and “that fuckbag Neil,” Gerry is going to be a fountain of drama.
What’s most special about Bright Colors And Bold Patterns is that it is a one-person show. Gerry is the only character out of four that is seen or heard. The audience gleans the dialogue of the other three by Gerry’s responses to them, and it is to Droege’s immense credit as a playwright and actor that the play is so smooth. It feels as if it had its full cast of four. That’s an incredible feat: constructing dialogue and performance so immaculately that even nonspeaking invisible roles are full three-dimensional characters.
Drew Droege is irresistibly delicious as Gerry, and there is no mistaking that both actor and character love being the center of attention. He has total control over the audience, and his delivery is such that we are with him at every step. No moment in the show is empty. The audience is ready to fill any silence between lines with raucous laughter, applause, and even heavy anticipation during some of the more nuanced parts. To add to an already naturalistic performance, Droege engineers comedy and drama on the fly, and as both actor and playwright he is able to take that license with his own material without inhibition. This talent is of no surprise, given his experience with improv and sketch.
Underneath the hilarity, however, lies poignancy. We see that Gerry’s outer rainbow and prickliness shields the insecurities of an aging man wounded by heartbreak and censure who fears the obsolescence of his pride in a world that’s begun to normalize it. Gerry’s spirited advocacy of bright colors and bold patterns, when faced with a gay wedding that avoids them, evinces a deeper worry that the road to normal is the road to beige. In this sense, the interaction between Gerry and his ex’s new boyfriend (who is decades younger) is symbolic.
Gerry is a flawed man. He represents the best and worst of us, what we’ve been through, and what we want. One cannot ask more of a protagonist, especially in a comedy.
The black stage of the SoHo Playhouse (where Bright Colors is currently running) is decorated as the poolside patio of a Palm Springs house. Although the unpainted black background might’ve precluded comprehension of the passage of time, it is all irrelevant because of Droege’s performance. It is through him, not the set, that we can imagine the different times in which the play is set.
That said, this production’s success is owed not only to Droege’s skill in portraying Gerry’s relentless extroversion, but also to Michael Urie’s direction. According to an interview with BUILD Series, Urie saw the production in its infancy at Ars Nova, thought it was brilliant, and felt it needed a full production. The result is that Droege creates the world, and Urie colors it.
This show is a delight. Let’s all have some more bright colors and bold patterns in our lives.
BRIGHT COLORS AND BOLD PATTERNS – by Drew Droege, Director: Michael Urie
WITH: Drew Droege
Scenic Design: Dara Wishingrad,
Producer: Zach Laks, Riki Kane Larimer, Jamie Deroy, Keith Boynton/Mike Lavoie, Jim Kierstead, Drew Desky/Dane Levens; Associate Producer: Tom Detrinis, Amanda Bohan;Technical Director: Joshua Kohler
Presented by Soho Playhouse through January 7. https://www.brightcolorsandboldpatterns.com/