SEE IT: Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom is at the Back Door Theater, 4319 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 481-2960. 7:30 pm Thursdays-Sundays through March 22 (no show March 2). "Pay what you can" Thursdays and Sundays, $15-$25 sliding scale Fridays and Saturdays.
From the beginning, Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom is a romance, a politically driven tale and a riveting comedy. Take the playâs prologue: The narrator, a vivacious author of gay Marxist porn named Puppy, tells a politico-erotic story titled Mein Cock. The action is set in the mid-â90s, as AIDS drugs are improving, and playwright David Zellnik introduces us to a group of gay men and examines how they deal with uncertainty and instability. We see Jake (Andrew Bray) and Samson (Steve Vanderzee), a couple who had prepared to die together, as they struggle to âplan more than six weeks ahead.â Jake is the most romantic character, and Bray, curled up with a blanket over his head, beautifully portrays an idealist whoâs grown depressed and pseudo-delusional. As narrator Puppy, Matthew Kern can be exhaustingly flamboyant, lacking subtlety during the more sincere moments. But the scriptâs philosophical musings, Paul Angeloâs exuberant direction and the sheer energy of the rest of Defunkt Theatre cast keep things engaging. The playâs title references Mao Zedongâs Hundred Flowers Campaign, in which the Communist chairman cracked down on political dissidents. Yet the productionâs tone is far from brooding, with plenty of cheesy porno music and a campy sex sceneâor two, if you count a handy in the back of a Payless shoe storeâthrown in for good measure.