PRESS ARCHIVES: Bay Windows, 2002

September 26, 2002

READY TO CROSS OVER: ‘Unitard’ takes up where it left off the last time the troupe was in Boston, by Robert Nesti

If and when there’s a gay cable network let’s hope that those behind it asre smart enough to give “Unitard,” the edgy New York-based comedy trio, their own program. Certainly all three of its members Mike Albo, David Ilku and Nora Burns–are ready for prime-time (or a slot on “Saturday Night Live”). But why wait until them when you can catch their latest show “Unitard: Now More Than Ever”–at the Boston Center for the Arts this weekend.

As they proved last winter when they came to town (also under the auspices of the THEATER OFFENSIVE) they can be wonderfully on-target satirists of urban life, both gay and, to a lesser degree, straight. And the good news is that this show boasts all new material–a dozen-or-so skits that show each performer off to his or her best advantage.

Some of it may seem familiar as they recycle some of the funniest aspects of their earlier show. In the previous show, Burns played a pregnant woman who boasts of her superiority to everyone; here, with equal skill, she plays a new Mom meeting an old work colleague whom she all but dismisses as she plays with her baby. There’s also a sense of “deejay-vu” about one of Albo’s best routines, where he plays a man meeting an old boyfriend at a party whose conversation reeks of a passive-aggression dynamic. “He looks like you,” he tells his ex about someone at the party, “except he’s younger and things are going really well with his career.”

Ilku is especially funny as a 35-year-old gay man who hangs around with a 16-year-old girl and as a seemingly sincere guy attempting to connect with another man at a bar, only to reveal that he’s pushing a product. (“Soon it’s going to be your favorite Alco-pop alternative.”)

Perhaps because they tried out the material in Provincetown this past summer some of the material is skewered to the resort culture. One sketch has Ilku play a kitschy guesthouse owner hiring a young hustler as an anniversary gift for him and his lover. In another, Burns plays a club kid on the dance floor who offers a deadly commentary on those around him: “If those are washboard abs, he’s left a few loads of laundry on the line.” She’s also especially good as a self-described fag hag attempting to bond with a new guy: “Will you be my David Guest and I’ll be your Liza?”

Albo saves his best bit for last–a parody of a dance performance piece that involves a bathtub and bottled water that’s priceless; but so is virtually all of Unitard’s work.

March 7, 2002

Black Box Theater is littered with the sacred cows this comedic trio brilliantly brings down
by Robert Nesti

At the onset of their hilarious show, the three members of “Unitard” come through the audience each promoting their one-person show, skewering everyone from David Drake to Karen Finley to Lily Tomlin in the process. “I call my answering machine from my cell phone from the stage and ask the audience to leave a message,” says one. “I sit in a bathtub filled with yams exploring my Hungarian heritage,” says another.

And the trio–Michael Albo, Nora Burns, and David Ilku–are so good at this that you may never think of solo performance artists in the same way again.

Coming from New York where they’ve played in a number of downtown venues over the past year, the three are sharp satirists in the Mike Nichols-Elaine May tradition. And in this breezy, 70-minute show take on a variety of contemporary topics and view them through their distinctive (and very gay) sensibilities.

Each comes from a different performance background: Albo is a solo theater artist and writer, whose first novel, “Hornito: My Lie Life” (HarperCollins) was published last fall. Burns is best known for being part of the comic quartet “the Nellie Olesons”: and David Ilku is one-half of the drag duo “The Dueling Bankheads.”

I have no idea what brought them together, but it was a smart move–if a gay cable network ever happens, they deserve their own late-night comedy show. In fact, Comedy Central should give them a look–they’d be perfect after Primetime Glick.

Under the direction of Roland Tec, their skits and monologues are nearly always on-target, taking recognizable urban types and situations and lampooning them with a wonderful sense of irony.

Take, for instance, Burns as an upscale Urban Mon, the kind you may bump into in an upscale shop on Newbury Street. Speaking with a privileged smugness, she announces “I’m having a baby…and that makes me better than you,” before running through a litany of snobbish reasons why.

Lesbian mothers also get sent up in another skit where she plays an adopting mother obsessed with the status of her child. It was both very funny and unexpectedly un-p.c., and made for the only moment in the show when there was a sense of unease in the audience’s response.

Albo’s comedy is more on the personal level; that is, making fun of relationships and dating. In one routine he plays a man who is dating himself and whose hilarious description of his personal epiphany makes droll fun of 12-step jargon. In another he plays a self-obsessed actor who dismisses his friend with this passive-aggressive manner. “I just did another voiceover. You should try it. It’s hard to get into but you should try it,” he tells him.

In another he appears with his arm filled with shopping bags from upscale shops to berate the new economic reality. “Where did you go, big fat, flush economy?” he asks, while longing for what he calls the Enron illusion of wealth. “Gay people embraced shopping so that shopping and gay became the same thing,” he observes.

But by far his most ingenious bit is his take on an MTV video in which he plays a dancer backing up a singer like Jennifer Lopez, running through a Debbie Allen-like dance routine.

The character actor
Ilku is much more the character actor of the troupe, taking on a more eclectic group of contemporary types. In one he’s the kind of European lounge lizard you might find on “Sex and the City,” who puts down his friends with acidic comments. (“Your travel agent called about your ego trip. You’re overbooked.”)

In another he hits a note of recognition as an angry Starbucks employee, while in a third he does a funny take on actor Jackie Chan promoting his workout video in which “vogueing” gets mispronounced as “wogueing.”

Burns takes on a variety of media types, from a junkie talk show hostess to a Dr. Laura-type with a know-it-all attitude to her audience, both gay and straight. One of her most memorable skits has her playing a tough-as-nails New York publicist whose shark-like attitude pushes the limits of taste. At one point she says that Muhammad Ali is changing his name back to Cassius Clay “for obvious reason”; at another she says that she has good news for her client Father Geoghan–she’s signed a book deal for him with Disney.

If edgy humor’s what you want, then look no further than “Unitard.”

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