Friday, March 24, 2023

[REVIEW] Xandria Wylde’s Hot Mess eXpress Is A Joyous, Frenetic Ride To Coming–Literally–Out Of The Closet

It’s probably more than just coincidence that Zeiders American Dream Theater in Virginia Beach chose to debut playwright Matthew Payton-Downey’s semi-autobiographical play about literally living in the closet during Coming Out Month. Regardless of intent his work, which is being workshopped at Zeiders through October 24, is a joyful ride through one man’s slow but inevitable coming out experience—with some wild and raucous twists along the way.

As the play opens in Seattle, we meet Al, a young schoolteacher, who shares an apartment with Xandria Wylde, a raunchy, outrageous drag queen who’s only performances take place in front of an imaginary audience (and his Zeiders audience). Meanwhile, Al is enamored with a girl he knew in college and who has moved to Seattle. And therein lies the setting for all sorts of revelations, shenanigans, and fourth wall breaks that’s evokes The Odd Couple, La Cage Aux Folles, and Harvey.

The show’s often frenetic pace is matched by a core troupe of local actors who maintain an incredible energy level during the two-hour show performed on Zeiders Black Box Theater on an amazing set. The blocking is complex and keeps the cast in almost constant motion with the exception the final act when secrets are revealed and and mea culpas are offered.

Under Matt Burchfield’s expert direction, Matthew Payton-Downey is a one-person dynamo—just as loud and proud as you would expect a drag performer to be. But he never plays Xandria just as camp, although she does have many of the zingers that keep the audience laughing. She’s also a sobering influence on Al (played with a sweet insecurity by George Plank). Al’s mother, Geneva, and her second husband, Rick, (local actors Ann Heywood and Phillip Martin) are solid in their roles and convey their insecurities with great emotional depth. Al’s girl crush, Autumn, and her brother, Kevin, (Krystal Tuzon Gonzales, Mike Burnette) round out the solid roster with strong performances.

While I do think the work could be condensed into 90 minutes, the pace never lags. And after all, that’s why emerging artists choose to work out those things on the Zeiders stage. In the end, the show delivers a moving coming out message—which is still apparently needed. A few patrons of the show walked out, signaling that the world (or at least Virginia Beach) still needs the Xandria in us all to come out and be proud.

Outwire757 is sponsoring another Night Out performance of the show this coming Friday evening at 7:30 PM. The show will be followed immediately with our first Out Stories Open Mic in in over two years. Anyone who has a ticket to the performance and wants to share their coming out story is invited to attend. The event will be emceed by Matthew Payton-Downey.

Tickets are $25 on the Z’s web site, and Outwire757 readers receive a 15% discount by using discount code HMXOUT.

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