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Measure for Pleasure, The Garage Theatre

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With its tone of Liberace playing Mozart, Measure for Pleasure, written by David Grimm and directed by Eric Hamme for the Garage Theatre, empties the dirty laundry hamper in the household of Sir Peter Lustforth (Scott Lennard) and his wife, Lady Vanity Lustforth (Ricci Dedola). Because his is a loveless marriage, Sir Peter finds succor in any female but his wife who, an unpicked grape, withers on the marriage vine. Lustforth's comrade-in-debauchery, Captain Dick Dashwood (Matthew Anderson), has feigned his death, the better to assail the virginal bower of one Hermione Goode (Jessica Variz), whose auntie, Dame Stickle (Kim Bush), is a tad too protective of her niece's honor. And Will Blunt (Paul Knox), valet, has taken a fancy to the Lustforth maid, Molly Tawdry (Christopher Carson McClellen). Why yes, Molly's voice is unusually deep, a fact we glean in mid-fellate.

Mingled betwixt errant knickers and on-the-sly assignations lurks a theme, to wit, love, appearances notwithstanding, is not a testosterone dalliance but an enterprise based on understanding, patience and acceptance. The soap opera plot features complicated machinations, all of which revolve around sex. The pace blazes with a repartee that crosses the lapidary wit of Oscar Wilde with the guttural iterations of The Pogues. The production brilliantly enacts the bawdy "pleasure" of the title. Dongs drape from the ceiling like latex piñatas. A d-cup brassiere moonlights as a harpsichord. We are privy to a BJ in one corner, a stand-up bonk between a rake and a cross dressing maid behind a wall. Corsets, stockings and other exquisite unmentionables hang across the room like laundry strung between tenements. And what's a fornication cult without a well-appointed Man Cave?

But lest the evening spin out of control, pretensions to class and order reference the "measure" part of the title like a wonky metronome. Witness the various antics of lords and ladies, valets and maids, posh (albeit disheveled) living quarters, wigs and great period (read: Halloween) costumes, some classic (but not very classy) rhyming couplets, and a noblesse that's not very oblige. This infrastructure serves like a tight corset from which squidge the fleshy storylines. Philandering and its consequences get placed in the context of an unfortunate incident that occurred years before. Fences are mended as everyone ends up happy-ever-after. Topically the story makes a proud and appropriately splashy case for the sanctity of gay marriage, though I dissuade such swishy rhetoric to plead the case before Congress. On second thought, I don't.

This Mardi Gras ensemble cast's centrifugal performances are remarkably well-hung together. Lennard played Lustforth with a loutish carriage that buckles when he learns something interesting that concerns an heir. Looking like Heath Ledger's Joker, Dedola's Lady Vanity was pasty and saccharine, ceremonial and sad-sack. Both Variz and Bush brought manic Minnie Mouse energy to their characters, Variz as the "I just might" girl in high school, Bush as the school librarian that no one knew hung out in S&M bars on the weekends. The pouty McClellen and the foppish Anderson successfully walked a fine line as characters who masquerade as other characters. But the most awesome role of an evening of awesomeness was Knox's Blunt. He burned with true love while everyone else fiddled around with its reasonable facsimile.

Performances are 8PM, Thu. - Sat. The show runs until May 29th. Tickets are $15-18. The Theatre is located at 251 East 7th St. For more info call 433-8337 or visit www.thegaragetheatre.org.

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