Warning: This review may contain spoilers.
Memories of Catholic school came flooding back while seeing the Zakar Twins’ biographical comedy, Pray the Gay Away, a rollicking show playing the Goodale Theater in the Cowles Center downtown through September 29th. Some of those memories are painful but, in general, it doesn’t distract from this sexy, clever, and laugh-filled entertainment.
Based on their book, Zachary and Michael Zakar relate their story about growing up Arab-American and Catholic in San Francisco. Their mother, Iman, is a religious fanatic. She’s a cross between Piper Laurie in Carrie and Cathy Moriarty in But I’m a Cheerleader (“Boys don’t wear pink!”), with a little Joan Crawford thrown in for good measure. Minnesota native Vince Kelley, who plays Mom, even wears incredibly high, white CFM pumps. Naturally, the boys fear their mother, whose extremist methods include dousing them with Holy water (using a super soaker) when they contradict her. (Their father is mentioned, but never seen on stage.)
Zachary opens the show, wearing a t-shirt and pink underwear. He’s planning to skip Mass one Sunday morning to enjoy some innocent fellatio with his gay classmate, Shane. The collection of condoms in his backpack rivals the collection Samantha has in her purse in Sex and the City. The ensuing, liquid-y sequence from beyond the confines of a toilet stall, is a highlight of Act One.
In contrast, Michael prays to control his sexual urges, because he too, is gay. When Zachary finds out, they agree to keep it secret. However, someone witnesses Shane and Michael in the boy’s room, and tells the whole school. This leads Mom to church, where she speaks to her gay priest, Father Imbrahim (he complains that she’s always early to confession). This becomes a scene filled with plenty of innuendoes and a seductive confession becomes a seductive 1960s dance.
Both boys encounter their Fairy Gayfather, who welcomes them to a “gayme” show. Besides being given their Gay Card, sexual position and the possibilities of guilt are shared by this over-the-top but refreshing character. When Mom learns about the boys’ secret, her methods for praying the gay away tend toward the ridiculous, almost like she’s a clueless, mean June Cleaver.
The Zakar Twins knew who their audience would be when they put this show together—it deliberately makes fun of itself. Gay Icons such as Kevin Spacey, Martha Steward and Dolly Parton are mentioned, and among the props that show up onstage are dildos, butt plugs, enema balls and a fleshlight, each used to comic effect.
While some of the characters are exaggerated, the tropes the Zakar Twins are pointing to are very well-known. There’s a touching scene in the second act where the Fairy Gayfather asks Iman to look at the Bible and tell him how many people Jesus turned away. This production comes at a very appropriate time, especially when so many right wing, hypocritical bigots pontificate their stupid theories, claiming a pipeline to the higher powers. Pray the Gay Away helps us cope with some of this in a fun way.
In addition to the Twins playing themselves, Vince Kelley holds the audience in her hands as Mom. (One minor quibble, her microphone could be turned up a bit. Sometimes it’s hard to hear her.) Cory Shorter is Kelley’s equal as the Man in the Suit. He seems to be enjoying himself in all that glitter and flashy drag, too.
Jeffrey James Fox, who bears a resemblance to Richard E. Grant, is a treat as Shane, Father Imbrihim, and three other roles, with Zachary James Morgan playing a couple of smaller roles. With the exception of Mom, Karen Connor’s wardrobe keeps the actors frequently undressed and in half-costumes (such as jock straps).
The Zakar Twins are hilarious, good-looking, and their show is sexy, fun, and the perfect tonic for our times. Go and see Pray the Gay Away, through 29 September at the Cowles on Hennepin Avenue.