The question you might find dancing in your head while watching Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Dance Party—a livelier title than show, to be sure—isn’t why it landed a prime locale in the current Off Broadway season, but how it even got into last year’s New York International Fringe Festival to begin with. This is not meant to be a patent insult (well, okay, maybe a little), but really a query as to how such a preachy tract with a gimmick wowed the nudity-starved, thrill-seeking Fringers. Judging by the production mounted right now, it’s about as edgy as the Fred and Daphne segments of Scooby-Doo. And the clothes aren’t even as cool.
The above-mentioned gimmick is how the play unfolds: One audience member is chosen through a democratic system at the top of the show to pick the order in which the night will unravel, and what results is a sort-of Rashomon for the pink team. Chronicling a trial in which a grade school teacher is accused of imposing a gay agenda on her young’uns in Illinois by telling them that Abe Lincoln had a longtime lover, with political wheeling and dealing, closeted small-towners, and journalistic ethics inter-meshed amid it all, Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Dance Party isn’t exactly going to make one forget The Norman Conquests as the end-all bullseye of one-day triptych plays.
While admirably restraining from profanity-laden, jocular nipple twists to get its points across (something another prez-based show headed to Broadway could never resist), it isn’t aces with subtlety either; one character even says at one point that “gay is the new black people”-a sentiment one assumes any given Ryan Murphy TV show uttered eons ago. Between the lumbering, twee dance breaks (choreographed more dutifully than originally by Vince Pesce), the cumbersome, busy set that always threatens to swallow the actors, and the fluctuating energy levels, it’s far from a party and more akin to a long soiree in which the cool people haven’t arrived yet.
Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Dance Party is now playing at the Acorn Theatre on Theatre Row (410 W. 42nd St at 9th Ave) in New York City through Sept 5. Schedule: Tue at 7pm, Wed-Sat at 8pm, Sat at 2pm, Sun at 3pm and 7pm. Running time: 2 hours and 25 minutes, two intermissions.