Breezy, slickly directed, and immensely watchable, The Submission is one of those well-packaged 100-minute evenings of entertainment that survive on the strength of their telegenic young casts and strategically placed quips. As Pete (American Pie‘s Eddie Kaye Thomas) jokes to his badly behaved boyfriend, Danny (Glee alum Jonathan Groff): ”I love you, but people have whole choices in front of them when they get up in the morning. You don’t think Björk had a backup outfit when she put that f—ing swan thing on before walking the red carpet?”
The Submission is also one of those works that hold a minefield of structural problems beneath their shiny surface. In his first New York City outing, actor-turned-playwright Jeff Talbott concocts a rather ingenious, far-fetched, but built-for-laughs premise: Gay white Danny writes a capital-I Important Drama about an alcoholic black mother and her project-dwelling family. He submits it to the Humana Festival under the name Shaleeha G’ntamobi and hires ”Blactress” — his words! — Emilie (True Blood star Rutina Wesley) to ”play” him at the distinguished theater gathering. Yet Talbott also clearly wants to delve into real issues: For example, who’s more oppressed — Danny or Emilie? Can a gay white man ever begin to comprehend the African-American female experience? Is it acceptable for said gay white man to use the N-word in a play 37 times — or at all? And can any of these questions possibly be answered in a 100-minute comic drama?
But then there is the four-person cast. Groff is completely winning in every way. Considering that he’s constantly forced to toe the line between being an Avenue Q everyone’s-a-little-bit-racist kind of guy and a big flaming bigot, the fact that he makes Danny even semi-likable is a minor miracle. Wesley is sharp and funny and just haughty enough. Thomas, last seen Off Broadway in 2010’s The Bachelorette, gets better and better with each stage appearance, while Will Rogers makes the most of the relatively thankless role of Danny’s BFF and Emilie’s BF. Kudos also to David Zinn’s Wheel of Fortune-style set, a terrifically clever conglomeration of Starbucks-esque coffeehouses. It’s amazing how much spinning scenery can do for a show. B?
(Tickets: MCCTheater.org or 212-352-3101)