At times, theater audiences are just like Pavlov's dogs: They respond immediately and predictably to certain stimuli. Throw together a kick line, for instance, and the applause automatically follows — regardless of how well or poorly the kicks are actually executed.
The same is true with performers in drag. Everyone knows drag is supposed to be funny: A man dressing as a woman? How hilarious is that! So Devil Boys From Beyond, now being produced by Convergence-Continuum, has an instant leg up on our often-undemanding cultural Laugh-o-Meter.
With three of the four female roles played by men, in the boisterous style of low drag and high camp, the unevenly performed show can be quite amusing — and at times hilarious. And even if you find broad female impersonation to be essentially a played-out genre, there are giggles aplenty in this outlandish, fiercely gay farce.
It seems that aliens have landed in Lizard Lick, Florida, sometime in the mid-1950s, replacing the lumpish older men in town with ripped young studs on the make. This turns out to be great news for Florence and Dotty, two elderly ladies whose husbands have disappeared and been replaced by Chippendale dancers from outer space.
Of course this is hot national news, so the New York Bugle is covering the breaking event. Ace reporter Mattie Van Buren and her alcoholic husband and newspaper photographer Gregory are assigned the story by their editor Gil Wiatt (Tim Coles). But legendary journalistic pit viper Lucinda Marsh overhears snippets of the story and throws herself into the fray as well.
Once they're in Florida, the competition between Mattie and Lucinda heats up, the old ladies get suddenly and mysteriously pregnant, and the aliens instruct earthlings on the meaning of true love.
Devil Boys is written by Buddy Thomas and Kenneth Elliott as a send-up of uptight 1950s social mores as well as the screwball film comedies of the '30s and '40s. Add to that an overlay of the renegade gender-fuck theater produced by Charles Ludlam and you have rich potential for edgy humor.
Director Clyde Simon establishes a brisk pace and some clever stage business. A little model plane suspended against a dark sky recalls the cheesy video effects of the era's alien monster movies, such as Plan 9 From Outer Space.
A generally effective cast is highlighted by two performances. Zac Hudak is a denture-baring comical monstrosity as Lucinda, sharing bull snake hisses with her enemy. And as Mattie, Amy Bistok-Bunce nicely channels the rapid-fire delivery of a hard-charging reporter (think Jennifer Jason-Leigh in The Hudsucker Proxy, an ambitious flick also set in the '50s that employs '30s lingo).
Playing granny Florence is Grey Cross, a gnarly dude who doesn't take enough chances with his characterization, vocally and otherwise. Jonathan Wilhelm's Dotty is more on point, luxuriating in this old broad's various perversities. But Wilhelm almost goes too far with a couple of lame efforts at connecting with specific audience members.
The arch attitude of the play falls out at times — particularly when Michael Prosen as Gregory is trying to find a way to embody his drunk, closeted character. This is the most challenging role, with its shades of gray, and he eventually battles it to a draw.
As for the space visitors themselves, portrayed by Clint Elston and Geoffrey Hoffman, they flaunt their six-packs and murmur appropriately alien-sounding things, until they finally lecture their hosts on love, sounding a tribute to gay marriage in the process.
However, if you're waiting for transgender expression to stop being an easy punch line — in both the gay and straight worlds — you may need to visit another planet yourself.