Body and Soul
nytheatre.com review by David Pumo
May 13, 2005
John Glines's witty and sometimes touching new play Body and Soul is a snapshot of a pivotal evening in the lives of five gay men who are linked together by the past and reaching for new connections in the future. A man and his twenty-something nephew spend a weekend at a close friend’s New Jersey lakeside home. The friend recently ran into an old acquaintance with whom the uncle had a brief but torrid love affair some five years ago. The friend has invited the ex for dinner. The ex turns out to be the same man the nephew met that afternoon, and made plans with for the evening. To thicken the stew, the ex shows up with another friend whose longtime lover passed away almost a year ago.
Is five years enough time to get over the hurt of what could have been, or is destiny giving the uncle a second chance to hold onto the true love of his life? It’s a bit of a soap opera, for sure, but a nicely written one with many funny moments.
Glines has put together a script that flows easily, with characters and situations we can all relate to. The uncle has been a hero in some ways, rescuing his nephew when his homophobic parents threw him out for being gay. There is richness in this deed, but it doesn’t fill the emptiness left by the love that that got away. The ex, in the meantime, has lived around the world, working as a photographer and exploring the places he and the college professor father only talked about. But after five years of travel he, too, has been left with a deep loneliness. The widow, though still grieving, has had seven years of love that he will take with him through life.
There is something a bit awkward, though, about the way Dave McCracken has directed the script. Sometimes there don’t seem to be any real relationships or connections going on, no indication of the years these men have known each other, or the lives they’ve shared. Often the actors seem to be playing every line, every emotion, as if they don’t trust the script. With knowing looks, head movements and gesturing, they tell us exactly what is going on, exactly what we should be feeling, instead of showing us and letting us discover for ourselves.
Shawn Willett as the widow is sad and weepy from his first entrance till his last exit. Michael Bianco as the ex-lover is visibly brimming with desperation and loneliness. As the young, eager nephew, Blake Young-Fountain puts so much effort into each line that it is almost exhausting to watch him in the small theatre. Everything is happening right up front, on the surface. Nothing is left underneath or behind the words. After a bumpy start, Dale Church as the uncle manages to keep a mostly even keel. Oddly, Christian Sebastian as the flamboyant host with the bitchy one-liners gives the most subtle and believable performance of the evening.
Dionysus Theater’s L’il Peach is a warm and intimate space that is just right for Glines's sweet and personal script. A little scaling back of the broader emotions would make this production of Body and Soul the little gem it was meant to be.