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Kinky links to Abe Lincoln 

Queen City Theatre Company hosts a big dance party

Just when we thought everything had already been said about Honest Abe and the Party of Lincoln, along comes playwright Aaron Loeb with a wild comedy, Abraham Lincoln's Big Gay Dance Party, to set us straight. Loeb is clearly taking the low road, defaming Republicans and Illinois politics in one fell swoop, incongruously mating his prime targets with flaky choreography and a bevy of bad Lincoln impersonators.

It's been quite a learning curve this season: We knew the monumental prez could hunt vampires, but wow, the dude can cut a rug!

If that weren't enough, Loeb adds some three-card-Monte razzle-dazzle. As you walk into Duke Energy Theatre for this Queen City Theatre Company travesty, you'll have the opportunity to toss your name into a hat and become a key ingredient in the show. One audience member becomes its representative, and he or she will pick the order in which Loeb's three acts are presented.

But first, the wacky set-up. In Menard County, an Illinois backwater where Lincoln once lived, a progressive teacher named Harmony Green introduces her grade-schoolers, who perform a surprisingly freewheeling Christmas play, "Santa Receives a Presidential Pardon." The upshot of all this blasphemy, including an Abe Lincoln kick-line and the imputation that the Great Emancipator enjoyed the occasional log in his cabin, is that Green is fired and put on trial.

Not just any trial — because two potential gubernatorial candidates are involved, DA Tom Hauser and wannabe Regina Lincoln, it's the trial of the century. Historically, there's a parallel here between the Lincoln-Hauser face-off in the county courthouse and the Lincoln-Douglas debates at the dawn of Honest Abe's political career, when he ran for Congress. Ah, but Republicans are a little different 150 years later, and Hauser is depicted as a rabid homophobe and Lincoln, with Queen City artistic director Glenn T. Griffin's perverse encouragement, frequently reminds us of Sarah Palin. Just to make sure the trial is as sensational as possible, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Anton Renault is covering the story for the New York Times.

Here is where Loeb's razzle-dazzle comes in. Once the set-up is established, the name of our representative is plucked out of the hat, and that person chooses which of the three protagonists' perspectives we will see first. Electioneering by the three candidates — Lincoln, Hauser, and Renault — is in that grand New Millennium tradition, soundbite brief. Our representative last Saturday night went for the most concise of them all, Renault's pithy "Pulitzer!"

Excellent choice, for the gay reporter's perspective was the most orderly, detailed and sleazy of the three, with a nocturnal tryst in a cornfield and the revelation that Hauser's son is gay. Hauser's perspective, which our representative wisely chose as our second act after intermission, dovetailed nicely with Renault's, filling us in rather conveniently on the perplexing crime that occurred in our Act 1. But woe unto any audience that begins with Lincoln's perspective. While illuminating the political horse-trading and gamesmanship going on behind the scenes, it only references the courtroom maneuverings fleetingly, doesn't quite jibe with the chronology established in the preceding acts, and leaves us a little confused. Placed before intermission, I suspect Lincoln's perspective would leave audiences far more confused, perhaps even discouraged.

With nine different ways to possibly present this script, the cast betrayed some confusion of their own on the third night of the Queen City production. Everyone in the seven-person cast has at least two roles to play, some with frequent costume changes. Matt Kenyon takes time off from Anton's muckraking connivery to be the judge at the trial. Cynthia Farbman timeshares her Regina with celebrity photographer Esmeralda, and Christopher Chandler takes a brief break from bigoted Tom to come onstage as a reporter.

Remember also that while actors are scurrying offstage, changing character, stagehands are re-adjusting Tim Baxter-Ferguson's irreverent, sometimes lewd set design to meet the chosen run sequence du jour. Griffin keeps the action moving at a fairly frenetic pace, so the fluffs seem to be consonant with the zany situation. With a runtime of 2:03 plus intermission in each of nine variations, it's doubtful that the cast became comfortable with all nine permutations during rehearsals.

Griffin has even adjusted the customary Queen City routine. Managing director Kristian Wedolowski, dressed up as a Uruguayan Abe, came on to promote the rest of Q.C.'s 2012-13 season (and plead for money) after Act 2 instead of before the show. Presumably, the interlude gives actors and stagehands a chance to collect themselves and figure out what's next.

Farbman seems to know as well as anyone. If you thought Regina and temptress photographer Esmeralda might be beyond the range of an actress who has excelled as Callas in Master Class and Fosca in Passion, a single Palinesque wink will suffice to toss that presumption aside. Clad in mauve khakis, Kenyon lavishes more than sufficient swishy snobbery on Anton, shuttling ably to the dignity of the judge — except when audaciously undignified breakouts are decreed. Chandler doesn't dilute Tom's blindness and bigotry, returning us to the notion that serious matters are being treated amid the extravagant silliness.

Moods actually swing fairly often. We switch from ideological circus to political infighting each time the opposing lawyer/politicians' handlers come on the scene. At various points, Iesha Hoffman as Lincoln's aide Violet or Daniel Breuer as Hauser's Lloyd seems to have the upper hand in their tense battle, but both are so deliciously mercenary that they're sometimes funny — and each of them gets delightful kiddie cameos in the Christmas play and in court. It works out nicely that Hoffman and Breuer's adult roles are so slickly handled, because Blake Smith bumbles a little bit as Hauser's closeted son.

At the center of it all, yet taking a backseat to the prima donna politicians, Jennifer Quigley manages to stand apart for her genuine principled simplicity as Harmony. She doesn't get the chance to let her hair down, but like the rest of the cast, Quigley gets to don outrageously fake Lincoln whiskers and boogie to Karen Christensen's irresistibly campy choreography. Sound design by Griffin is equally unerring, particularly when the anthem from La Cage aux Folles, "I Am What I Am," is debased into disco.

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