Smart, hilarious, heartfelt Cedar Springs at Theatre Too

Donald and his wife Rhonda buy a home in Cedar Springs (an LGBT district of Dallas) without realizing the implications. Marcus and Clark, making the neighborly gesture, invite them over for supper. Donald is originally from East Texas, and to put it kindly, he and Rhonda are very sweet, but not exactly cosmopolitan. When Cedar Springs (or Big Scary Animals) opens, the four are having pleasant, if strained, post dinner conversation. Donald doesn’t understand the difference between pudding and mousse and asks which one of them is “the wife.” Rhonda and Donald are afraid of saying the wrong thing. Clark and Marcus are unapologetic, but don’t want to be brazen or offensive. Enter their teenage daughter, Sophia. The idea of two gay men having a daughter confuses the older couple. As if they aren’t having enough trouble keeping up, Sophia launches into a barely concealed crusade to mess with them, for their ignorant (if unintentional) homophobia. She casually mentions sexual exploits and political references she knows will send them into a tailspin, then proceeds to go next door and seduce their teenage son, Ronnie. When Donald and Rhonda go home, they find Sophia on top of him.

I think it’s fair to say that much of Cedar Springs turns on two unfortunate truths. Few people understand how truly narrow-minded they are, and, tempting as it may be, no one can be reduced to a caricature. For all the pleasantries Marcus and Clark probably see the hetero spouses as crackers, and Rhonda and Donald see them as degenerates. We go from civilized warmth to chaos, name-calling and rage. From bliss to meltdown. While the gay couple is sophisticated and urbane, they still fall into numerous stereotypes. While the straight couple come off as provincial bible-pounding Christians, you can’t exactly laugh at the obvious pain their son suffers from. The plays gradually goes from farce to dark-night-of-the-soul drama, after much liquor and verbal vitriol has ensued. It seems that Donald despises persecution and hate crimes at least as much as Clark and Marcus. When the poses and affectations are stripped away, all four have their moments of terror and regret.

It’s surprising when you consider the huge gap between the cerebral and actual when it comes to comedy. What ought to be funny often deflates like a leaky balloon. I was leery of Cedar Springs, because, considering the premise, how many unexpected places could it go? Sophia felt like a device, included for the sake of stirring the pot. Much to my delight, Cedar Springs was genuinely, undeniably, wonderfully funny. So many comedies never make the transition from script to performance, but Matt Lyle (God Bless Him) creates a narrative instead of just doing and saying anything for a laugh. There are no heroes and no villains. Lots of character-based, infinitely empathetic comedy, thanks to the dedicated, versatile, masterful cast (Charlotte Akin, Jaxon Beeson, Chad Cline, John S. Davies, Alle Mims and Wilbur Penn) . Ultimately the two couples are revealed in all their raw, broken, lovable humanity, while avoiding backpedaling or cloying.

Theatre Too presents Cedar Springs (or Big Scary Animals) playing through October 1st, 2017. 2800 Routh Street, Suite 168, Dallas, Texas 75201. 214-871-300.

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