REVIEW: Lovers (City Lit Theater)

Half winner, half loser

 

City Lit Theater - Lovers

    
City Lit Theater presents
  
Lovers
  
Written by Brian Friel
Directed by
Terry McCabe
at City Lit Theater, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr
(map)
through October 3  |  tickets: $25  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

Brian Friel’s Lovers is divided into two stories, “Winners” and “Losers.” The former shows a day in the life of two teenagers preparing to be wed, the latter recounts the history of a middle-aged married couple. United by their Irish setting and a common thread of underlying sorrow, the two stories reveal how the fantasies people associate with love are crushed by the circumstances of the real world. Bleak. But the poster is two withering roses, so don’t say City Lit Theater didn’t warn you.

Ironically, Winners is the weaker of the two, suffering from a lack of clarity that makes the monologue-heavy script drag. The main action shows teenaged lovers Mag (Catherine Gillespie) and Joe (Joey deBettencourt) studying for their last set of exams, not allowed to return to school due to Mag’s unplanned pregnancy. As they expose their hopes and fears for married life, two narrators (Walter Brody and Maggie Cain) describe the events that lead up to and occur after the study session, City Lit Theater - Lovers2 emphasizing the moment’s significance for the lovers. There isn’t much action in the script, with characters spending most of their time recounting past experiences or ruminating about the future, so the actors have to work even harder to keep the audience’s attention.

Gillespie and DeBettencourt succeed in capturing the innocence of their characters – with moments like an Old West style shootout between the two and an imaginary gang of their enemies – but they struggle at giving weight to their new adult problems. Much of this is due to the pace of Mag’s early monologues, rushed to the point where emotional shifts are lost and the Irish dialect is compromised. As Mag and Joe’s fate is revealed by the narrators, dramatic irony keeps the proceedings moderately interesting, but “Winners” never regains the momentum it loses at the start.

“Losers” is the saving grace of the evening, with Brody and Cain retuning to the stage as Andy and Hannah, a middle aged couple saddled with the burden of Hannah’s pious mother (Kay Schmitt). Forced to join the matriarch for nightly prayers and devotions to Saint Philomena, Andy learns the hard way that “the family that prays together, stays togethers.” The actors get an immediate hand up on the earlier scene by getting a script where things actually happen, but they also are much more adept at capturing the melancholy that runs underneath the humor. Director Terry McCabe provides plenty of slapstick physical comedy as the lovers try to find ways to fool around without disturbing Mrs. Wilson, and Brody is able to make the transition from youthful exuberance to seasoned seriousness that are lost on the young actors in “Winners.”

Lovers concludes on a cynical note, with the characters’ failures overweighing their triumphs. City Lit’s production is able to escape that fate, with a second act that overcomes the missteps of the first to create an ultimately enjoyable evening of theatre.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
   
   

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REVIEW: The Gay American (The Ruckus)

Sexual fear and loathing in American politics

  TheGayAmerican_Production09

  
The Ruckus presents
 
The Gay American
  
by Kristian O’Hare
directed by
Allison Shoemaker
at
the side project, 1439 W. Jarvis (map)
through May 26  tickets: $10  |  more info

reviewed by Paige Listerud

Washington D.C. is the perfect place for a gay sex scandal. The nexus of American political power, the district is already so rife with desperation, loneliness, self-loathing, overweening hypocrisy and insidious self-compromise that the closeted  queers fit right in. Hand in glove. It’s both here, and in the benighted environs of New Jersey, that Kristian O’Hare’s dark, freewheeling satire The Gay American takes its stand. Director Allison Shoemaker has pulled together a sharp and seductive cast, luring us with laser-like sarcasm and poignant reflection into TheGayAmerican_Production11the small studio space at the side project theatre space in Rogers Park, where The Ruckus has set up shop for this world premiere.

Their production will sell out every night, if there is any justice in this world. The Gay American is top-drawer, savage American comedy. Its script is an outrageous, non-stop interrogation of the value of gay identity politics at its intersection with its closeted presence on the national political scene. Coming out, while a cornerstone in the valorous struggle for sexual identity equality, yellows sickly with corruption, duplicity, and solipsism in the hands of a politico as sleazy and self-promoting as Jim McGreevey (Neal Starbird).

Scene: our nation’s capitol. Gay pages suck up to powerful Washington players in the pursuit of a political career wherein they get to be the top. A closeted power player and vociferous foe of sexual predators, Mark Foley (Walter Brody) keeps a stable of young pages that he can text suggestive comments to back and forth during their term in the page program. After page graduation, once the boys are legal enough, he meets up with them for sex at the hotel room that is “the second most favorite address in D.C.” New Jersey Governor McGreevey, an up-and-coming presidential hopeful, siphons off a Page (Aaron Dean) to serve as his personal aide, whether for his own personal service, or to service him and his wife Dina (Julie Cowden) during one of their “Friday Night Specials”–starting with drinks and jalapeno poppers at no less a place than TGIF Fridays.

All the above is true and established fact. In some respects, O’Hare’s wild and absurd script has written itself and there is no way that he can top the inanity that passes for political reality in America. But the real charm lies in his capacity to craft 3-dimensional comic characters; allowing them softer, sadder, even more poetic moments, while never letting up on the cynical, mercurial rationales by which they sell themselves and each other out. The rest of the charm relies on the crisp and exacting pace with which this show is executed. If there’s an award for lightening fast scene changes in a mercilessly cramped space, this cast and crew have earned it.

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Beyond scene changes, what a joy to witness a complex and sophisticated script fleshed out by such a brilliantly comic cast. Starbird’s Jim McGreevey looks like he has sprung, fully formed, from the New Jersey muck. His office—his real office—is a bathroom stall, for which he explains his preference on two separate occasions: “I love the bathroom stall. It reminds me of my Catholic upbringing,” and “Remember Clark Kent and Superman? That’s the way I feel about bathroom stalls. I enter it Irish Catholic, middle class, married, a normal guy . . . and after a nameless fuck, I leave it feeling like Superman.” For his part, Walter Brody looks so much like Mark Foley he had me doing double takes all evening long. He also captures the fluid ease with which a true Washington player makes the switch from rank exploiter to pillar of morality in 2.8 seconds.

Joshua Davis renders a deliciously tender and corruptible Golan Cipal. He’s the lover that McGreevey continually mistakes for Mexican and, in a 9/11 environment, promotes to homeland security advisor at a six-figure salary–even though Cipal is still an Israeli citizen. O’Hare is ready to play the romance card regarding Cipal’s involvement with McGreevey and Davis digs deep into the role’s contradictions,  evolving Golan’s progress from warm, poetic naïveté to gullible and overwhelmed self-compromise for one’s lover to immersion in self-loathing rage from a lover scorned.

TheGayAmerican_Production14But his rage cannot match the post-partum blackness in the soul of Dina McGreevey (Julie Cowden). I might have wished that O’Hare could have played up the sleaze factor a little more for this character. Certainly the real Dina Matos McGreevey deserves it. O’Hare relies just a little too much on “poor, betrayed woman” tropes for his Dina. Only once does he have her acknowledge her own complicity in her lavender marriage. Plus, a little research reveals that those “Friday Night Specials” were going on well before marriage. Nevertheless, Cowden’s performance is immaculate in its searing emotional truth. Her boozy, pill-popping chats with Jersey gal pal Patty (Elise Mayfield) become especially memorable, particularly when Patty morphs into Constance Wilde. Now that’s a side to Constance that Oscar may never have seen.

Aaron Dean and Freddie Donovan play a perfect pair of congressional pages—perfect bookends portraying the young gay have and have-nots in Washington’s political game playing. Stevie Chaddock gives us a sympathetic and vulnerable Morag–ignored by her parents as they enjoy the “cup quality” of their coffee, lost in the brave new world of cyber-dating, hoping to gain something from exploiting herself before others exploit her. I might have wished for more empowerment for Morag, Page, and Philly Buster but that will never come to pass in this world. No, in this dark, gay tale of Washington sexual shenanigans everyone loses, especially when they think they are winning.

    
     
Rating: ★★★½
    
    

 

 

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