Reverend Jonathan Fisher (Michael Tobin), founder of Straight and Narrow, an evangelical congregation meant to "cure" homosexuals, has a problem: He is about to run for public office (in order to, in his off-the-record words, "save the world from sniveling little faggots"), but his campaign is threatened by whispers in the press about the sexual orientation of his aide Adam (Bartley Mullin), who embraced the Church as a rejection of his flamboyant dad Jeremy (Jonathan Carr). Obviously, the surest solution is to get Adam safely hitched, so Jonathan decides to marry him off to Ruth Millay (Megan Jackson), a "former" lesbian in the congregation. What could possibly foil such a plan?
Enter a serum that eliminates shame, concocted by Adam's own dad (who also happens to be a Nobel laureate). So begins the situational comedy of local writer Jason Wilkins's pop musical Shameless (Shane Van Vliet accompanies live on piano, with Wilkins on acoustic guitar). Everyone drinks, including Reverend Jonathan and his wife, who is also named Ruth (Cathy Counts), and over two acts of Shameless, various kinds of love are found, renounced, and/or re-found. The show has its world premiere as part of Mad Horse Theatre Company's Dark Night Series, under the direction of Peter Brown.
Shameless is sometimes wittily satirical — reporter Steve Scopes (Benjamin Row), for example, works for Fix News ("News: It breaks, we fix it"). More often, the show's humor is slap-happy and/or outright horny in its humor — at one point, Jonathan and Adam ironically sing a song called "Thank God for Sodomy." Once Adam connects with his homosexuality, glad appreciations of fine asses and cocks abound. Wilkins is ecumenical in his poking, and has as much fun with the gay-rights movement (the flaming chemist Jeremy sings an anthem about "all kinds of love" in a tinseled tunic and a pink boa, harkening wistfully back to ancient Athens) as he does with the fervid Reverend.
The issues at the heart of Shameless are serious, of course, and the show also spends a lot of time, and a lot of songs, in earnest emotional mode, rounding out even its most obviously unlikable character. Tobin does a nice job with the Reverend's furor and frustration, and also has a strong singing voice, as does Jackson as Ruth. Mullin and Row, as Adam and Scopes, have lesser voices but are appealingly sprightly as actors, and Counts is sympathetic as Mrs. Reverend. The show as a whole feels slower, and its lyrics more boilerplate, in the earnest moments, but its feel-good — if far-fetched — conclusion makes for a rousing end to the evening.
SHAMELESS | by Jason Wilkins | Mad Horse's Dark Night Series, at Lucid Stage, 29 Baxter Blvd, Portland | through May 18, Mon-Wed @ 7:30 pm | pay-what-you-can | madhorse.com