Fabuloso is a story of two radically different couples. Teddy and Kate are entrenched in placid domesticity, jobs at a bank and as a soccer coach, and a certain amount of quiet desperation. Arthur and Samantha, by contrast, play dead and stalk each other screaming with knives. When Arthur and Samantha pay a visit to Kate and Teddy, Arthur’s childhood friend, and then stay, it becomes a tale of odd couples sharing a one-bedroom apartment. In Dramatic Repertory Company’s production of Fabuloso, one of these couples is played by Christopher Holt and Bess Welden, and the other by Peter Brown and Janice O’Rourke. And in DRC’s show, directed by Daniel Burson, each pair of actors gets to play both couples, in rotation. It’s an extra layer of fun in what’s already a glittery, over-the-top show of hijinks and transformation.
On the night I attended, I found Holt and Welden in the placid domesticity roles and Brown and O’Rourke doing the screaming and playing dead. To start with, the outfits themselves are fabulous — Arthur in suspenders and harem pants, or saddle shoes and tweed; Samantha in sequins, stripes, and a pair of green-gold leopard-skin velvet pants I would do something rash to own. And the shenanigans are outrageously silly, as Brown and O’Rourke go all-in: Brown’s Arthur struts and pouts, cackles and peacocks as he orders a crate of limes and rum or scales the couch; O’Rourke is a hurricane of shrieks and murder, then of desperate giggling need.
Holt, as he often does, excels at portraying a man who has a lot going on beneath a repressed surface. Much of the time, Holt keeps Teddy down low, his voice gruff and monotone, his face blank and either wary or expectant. He is bewildered but enchanted by Arthur and Samantha; he exudes a sense of boylike shyness that opens up gloriously into delighted, amazed grins, into the giddy air of getting away with something, each time Arthur comes up with some new scheme or extravagance. Even just to be under Arthur’s gaze makes Teddy’s eyes light up. Meanwhile, Kate watchfully observes her husband’s increasingly regressive behavior under Arthur’s tutelage, and in the role, Welden gives a beautifully nuanced performance of her. She presents as the adult in the room, stupefied but carefully measured, incredulously but compassionately searching Teddy’s face as she draws out of him an account of why, exactly, he and Arthur dropped a bag of shit from an overpass.
But of course, inevitably, Kate and Teddy are both soon drawn into the excitement and chaos of their new friends, and together they enact all manner of intimate late-night bacchanals, playing-dead dramas, and even a dance number (I won’t spoil the latter, but it’s awesome). It satisfies some need in all four of them as the two couples revel in adult pleasures filtered through a child’s sense of the absurd — martinis, for example, drunk from fishbowls or a blinking twisty straw.
As crazytown as the antics are, some subtle character arcs are happening here, as Arthur and Samantha’s defining characteristics come to seem not just those of irresponsible adults, but of adults who have been unable to leave childhood — of adults deeply vulnerable in their need. And all four actors also beautifully bring their characters to slower, more stripped and poignant moments along the way. Still, the childlike/childish qualities grow to fever pitch until they bring the foursome to their crisis, when Holt’s transformation is quietly arresting.
This constellation of actors and roles, on Friday night, seemed so perfectly cast and executed that it was fascinating to imagine how the show might play with the roles reversed. Luckily, you needn’t just imagine: seeing Fabuloso twice is just the kind of decadence this show piques.
Fabuloso | by John Kolvenbach; directed by Daniel Burson | Dramatic Repertory Company at the Portland Stage Studio Theater, 25 Forest, through March 17 | www.dramaticrep.org