A story that begins as schizophrenically as “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” was pretty much destined to find its way into the twisted dramaturgical hands of Everett Quinton, whose travesties as a member of the Ridiculous Theatrical Company most famously included The Mystery of Irma Vep, the cross-dressing, quick-changing vampire-movie sendup for which he won an Obie Award alongside Ridiculous mastermind Charles Ludlam. If that sentence seems both painfully knotty and overly dense, you’re not the target audience for Quinton’s take on A Tale of Two Cities, which potboils that classic down to its bones and gives them to a late-’80s drag queen to conjure with.
I’ll spare you the synopsis of the Dickens Tale, not least because it’s tiresomely Dickensian. All you need know is that in this version, our hero, an aspiring downtown diva who today would skip all the angst and proceed directly to RuPaul’s Drag Race, needs a bedtime story for the baby who’s been abandoned on his doorstep. Seizing upon the titular saga of true love and redemptive sacrifice, he finds himself carried away by the story, enacting all the parts even as he begins to dress for the debut performance his inconveniently wakeful visitor threatens to derail. Silliness ensues, with mayhem always threatening but never quite arriving as plots thicken, crosses are doubled, and catfights—involving Miss Pross, Madame Defarge, and those fatal knitting needles, natch—are somehow staged by a single performer.
The sense of lunatic high-wire risk involved ought to lend fizz to the proceedings, and in the eminently bendy actor Alex Mills, director Serge Seiden certainly has a star willing to throw himself into things. (Literally: I’m pretty sure there’s a bit where he throws himself into something, and if there isn’t, there probably will be by the end of the show’s run.) And though I can’t imagine what strain of off-kilter inspiration led Seiden to cast the distinctly un-babyish Vato Tsikurishvili as that interloping infant, I’d sure like to smoke some of it.
Game as the two men are, and perfect as Luciana Stecconi’s eye-gougingly garish Alphabet City apartment set is, an exercise that’s meant to spiral into the sublimely Ridiculous stays firmly if energetically grounded.
That Madame Defarge impersonation, though—if Mills doesn’t trot that out at a few cocktail parties this season, he’s not the diva I hope he is.
1800 South Bell St., Arlington. $10–$50. (703)824-8060. synetictheater.org.