If you’re wondering why a gay theater would present a musical about a World War II battle for a tiny island in the Pacific — what’s gay about it, right?–writer-director John Fisher, Theatre Rhinoceros’ artistic director, wrote the answer right into his script: “It’s campy!”
Campy it is, and silly, and full of gay-lesbian innuendo, and goofy song and dance numbers with piano accompaniment by Don Seaver, who wrote the music, and a large (and slightly uneven) cast of nine actors, each playing multiple roles.
“The Battle of Midway! Live! Onstage!” is amusingly metatheatrical. A small and impoverished theater company – Theatre Hippopotamus— run by a gay man (played by Fisher, of course) is producing this comedy despite the concerns and criticisms of the board of directors and key funders.
According to Fisher’s note in the program, he grew up loving “loud war movies” and this is his tribute to the genre.
The show depicts a group of Japanese pilots (all women) pitted against a group of Americans (all men) led by Gen. Nimitz, who’s played with gusto by Rhino regular Donald Currie, who also plays (among other roles) Midway Island, complete with a palm tree on his head.
Planes and aircraft carriers are shot down. Japanese airmen commit suicide. An admiral (petite, buff Justin Lucas) suddenly gets “beriberi” sick, leaving the field open for another admiral – screw-up Fletch (Fisher) – to take over operations.
A Japanese girl, Michiko (Lucas again, in pigtails, very funny), falls in love with a Japanese airman and they warble a duet, “Young Love,” featuring the lyrics “Love . . . Japanese love!” (When the pilot tragically dies, a grieving Michiko sings, plaintively, over the dead body, “I’m a one-guy girl/I could just hurl.”)
Along the way, Currie warns the audience, “Please do not learn your history from plays and movies!” Indeed.
Interspersed are meetings with funders and pointed references to “the other gay theater” in town, the one that’s presumably more successful.
In this cross between Mel Brooks-style, over-the-top comedy and a “Saturday Night Live” extended skit, Fisher anticipates every possible criticism and pre-empts them all. You gotta love that he’s doing exactly what he wants to do and is willing to make fun of himself and his theater — and some of the material is quite witty.
But the play is simply too long and too repetitive — and the acting mostly too hammy – to generate the laughs it’s aiming for.
The Battle of Midway! Live! Onstage!
Presented by Theatre Rhinoceros
Where: Costume Shop, 1117 Market St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. most Wednesdays-Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, closes Nov. 30
Tickets: $15 to $20
Contact: (800) 838-3006 or www.therhino.org