NEWSDAY, JANUARY 17, 2003
By GORDON COX
'I'm simply mad for orientalia," the Lady Sylvia Allington declares early on in "Shanghai Moon." It's a highly politically incorrect thing to say, but don't worry: Lady Sylvia is the heroine of a movie melodrama from the 1930s (you know, back when we didn't know any better), and besides, she's being played, with a very knowing wink of her false eyelashes, by the venerable playwright and drag performer Charles Busch. "I must say," Lady Sylvia concludes, surveying a room in her new Shanghai home, "that Buddha's awfully chic."
"Shanghai Moon," an affectionate send-up of those pre-Code black-and- white flicks that made a fetish of the Far East, has much less in common with "The Tale of the Allergist's Wife," Busch's comparatively decorous comedy that recently had a respectable run on Broadway, than it does with the fabulously ridiculous spoofs that made Busch's name (and that have titles such as "Psycho Beach Party" and, most famously, "Vampire Lesbians of Sodom"). It's a welcome return to form, and the Drama Dept., always up for a laugh, has given the play a crackerjack production that opened last night.
Busch has delicious fun with Lady Sylvia, who's no lady in more ways than one; she's actually a crass, plucky American who married a British Lord. Busch revels just as much in Sylvia's common roots - her abrasive Chicago accent, her seen-it-all sauciness - as much as the glam postures of the upper crust (and of movie heroines): the eyebrow arched high, the face heroically upturned toward flattering light. He knows how to work an outfit, too, especially as dressed by costume designers Michael Bottari and Ronald Case, who strike a delicate balance between sexy and preposterous.
Busch may be the main attraction, but he's joined by an equally gifted ensemble, three of whom (Becky Ann Baker, Marcy McGuigan, and, most impressively, Daniel Gerroll) take advantage of dual roles to do such varied, goofily specific work that some theatergoers may think the six- actor cast is larger than it really is. The busy B.D. Wong (between appearances on "Law & Order: SVU" and "Oz") poses sternly as the dashing but dastardly object of Sylvia's illicit passion, savoring every emphatic sidelong glance, while Sekiya Billman slinks maliciously in and out of the action as Mah Li, the jealous Singsong girl who picks a catfight with Lady Sylvia.
As the cinematically savvy production (entertainingly overwrought by director Carl Andress and a witty design team) heads toward its requisite tragic conclusion, there's something of a lull in the final reel. But the last scene includes more than one shocking revelation that brings down the house, and "Shanghai Moon" proves an intelligently dumb, decadent delight
New York Times