Jack Ferver’s I Want You to Want Me is a devastatingly funny and clever send-up of the classic Hollywood tale of a young woman chasing dreams of stardom — as if made by an Italian giallo master. A dancer who spends most of her time waitressing, Ann Erica Rose (Carling Talcott-Steenstra) is excited when she gets offered a chance to work with a prominent company (companie) in Europe, but her boyfriend (Ferver) doesn’t want her to go, spouting clichéd heterosexual platitudes that are all the more hysterical because Ferver, a local gay icon, plays the tough straight man with delicious relish. Ann Erica (from America) heads off to Paris, where she is taken under the wing of witchy dance legend Madame M (Ferver), who is assisted by the mysterious Reid (Reid Bartelme). Madame M guides Ann Erica, Reid, and another wide-eyed new dancer, Barth (Barton Cowperthwaite), who hails from Colorado, through a series of solos, duets, and trios that are consistently outrageous as Ferver plays with conventions of modern dance and classical ballet while the devious plot thickens, leading to a finale that would make fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000 shriek in delight.
I Want You to Want Me is set in a dance rehearsal studio, with two side mirrors in the corner and large mirrors against the back wall that reflect the audience. Both Madame M and Reid are able to magically turn the lights and fog machine on and off with the flick of a finger, lending an otherworldly nature to the proceedings. Talcott-Steenstra and Cowperthwaite are a riot as the Disney-esque couple from an alternate universe, and longtime Ferver collaborator Bartelme is a scream as Reid, who deadpans beautifully during extended dance sequences that feature some crazy-ass moves. Channeling such divas as Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, and Martha Graham, Ferver (Chambre; Mon, Ma Mes) feasts on his role as Madame M, gliding across the stage in an elegant dark costume, by Reid & Harriet Design (run by Bartelme and Harriet Jung), that can be rearranged for multiple purposes, from a devilish, hooded robe to a lovely off-the-shoulder gown to a sexy little frock. It’s no wonder Ferver spends much of the time looking at himself in one of the mirrors; he can’t take his eyes off himself, and we can’t either, especially as his thick makeup and ever-growing false eyelashes start to devolve. Part of the ADI/NYC Incubator residency program, I Want You to Want Me is another triumphant piece of thoroughly engaging dance theater as only Jack Ferver can create.