“Valhalla” – Nearly Naked Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ November 10, 2014


Nearly Naked Theatre, Hardes Theatre at Phoenix Theatre
Phoenix, AZ

In 2005, Nearly Naked Theatre was beginning to make an impression on the local theater scene as they opened one of their most popular shows, Paul Rudnick’s “Valhalla.”  Nearly Naked is reviving several of its biggest past hits this season and “Valhalla,” with a new cast but retaining Damon Dering’s smashingly funny production, is again a wacky delight.  But under the humor, “Valhalla” has a rich message about always being you and not worrying about what others think.

The comedy is a wild ride that pairs the real life of mad King Ludwig of Bavaria who ruled in the 1880s with fictional character James Avery, a bizarrely gay 1940s Texas teenager.  The play finds hilarious parallels between the two including common sexual proclivities.  The play has brief nudity and strong language so be warned.

The two characters behave with wacky abandon but each remains true to their own beliefs.  An important message but Rudnick has marvelous fun with his play.  Audiences will be grandly amused but will realize that underlying the frivolous malarkey is the critical message.

It’s quite a play and in the ridiculously silly Nearly Naked Theatre production, audiences will be delighted by an artful cast that delivers the humorous jabs and jives with impeccable comic timing.  The contrasts between the somber drabness of 1940s Texas and the extravagant excesses of garish Bavaria that got Ludwig in such trouble with his country complement each other beautifully as they add to the play’s fun.

Director Dering has long treasured “Valhalla” and his staging instincts make the play’s wackiness bizarrely entertaining.  Dering keeps his production zipping along so you laugh hysterically at each silly line and each crazy thing the characters do but you quickly move on to the next bit of silly stupidity.  It all transpires with split second comic timing.

Vinny Chavez has a madcap day with Ludwig as he prances and preens around outrageously.  Cole Brackney’s James has the ability to switch easily and naturally between being an outrageous gay blade and masquerading as straight.

Susan St. John has great fun playing the two central characters’ mothers.  Portia Beacham plays the unsuspecting brides of the two gay blades with brilliant comic brio.  Jacob Gentile is perfect as the two central characters male love interests, and Pat Russel is wacky in smaller roles that add comic merriment to the play.  The production is nicely designed with clear distinctions between the two historic periods.

“Valhalla” is an adorable delight that entertains mightily.  It continues through November 29.  For tickets, call the Phoenix Theatre box office at 602-254-2151.

Grade: A