Gates of Gold
nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
February 28, 2009
Frank McGuinness's Gates of Gold is one of those plays where the paragraph description is not entirely accurate. After reading the summary, I imagined that the play would be the story of the founding of Dublin's Gate Theater by Hilton Edwards and Micheál MacLiammóir, a partnership both onstage and off. What it is is a fictionalized love story between two men, Gabriel and Conrad, one an actor, one a director; one dying, one not. They happen to have founded a theater together at some point before.
There's nothing wrong with this plot. There is something wrong with the play. Very little happens, for starters. There's a lot of talking, but the characters don't say much. One man is dying, one isn't. They have a love-hate relationship. One is venomously cruel, the other is kind. One is a flamboyant showman, the other is demure, allegedly self-loathing, and has a penchant for smoking pot and snorting coke.
Will their "wounds" be healed by the time one goes to the great theater in the sky? Will they be able to heal the "wounds" of the people around them? You can infer the answer.
Predictable and far too talky, McGuinness's script has a few ho-hum laughs and a slew of go-nowhere plotlines including a relationship between Gabriel's nurse Alma and his nephew, who, years before, had a sexual relationship with Conrad, for which Gabriel hasn't really forgiven either of them. Meanwhile, nephew Ryan has daddy issues that go largely unexplored. There's also Kassie, Gabriel's sister. But she's unremarkable.
Kent Paul's staging, appealingly designed by Michael Schweikardt (set), Phil Monat (lighting), and Nanzi Adzima (costumes), is suitable and respectful, never going over the top in a number of cases when it can. The actors have great chemistry and their performances are solid, though the variety of dialects go in and out. The three supporting actors—Diane Ciesla as Kassie, Kathleen McNenny as Alma, and Seth Numrich as Ryan—are solid. Charles Shaw Robinson as Conrad (the older of the couple) is far too young compared to the wonderful Martin Rayner as Gabriel. Rayner's acerbic performance is by far the highlight, and he creates a character so wonderfully unlikable that you realize these two guys must be in love, because that would explain the reason why Conrad has stuck around.
According to program notes, the title comes from the "Gates of Gold" emblem originally designed by MacLiammóir for the Gate Theatre. While I have nothing against a love story, I would have very much liked to have seen a play about the founding of one of history's most famous theaters.