Fading to Grey
nytheatre.com review by Garry Schrader
July 15, 2007
A little bit clunky, a little bit corny, this offering from the Fresh Fruit Festival is, like its protagonists—a gay couple celebrating their 25th year together—not the freshest fruit on the vine. Still, the play has spirit and pace, is well performed, and shows such affection toward its characters that it's hard to dislike.
Alan Brady and Terry Mills are first met on the morning of their anniversary, a day that is to culminate in a party thrown for them that night by their friend Brian. Playwright Richard A. Pettey captures well the morning chatter of a long-term couple, fond endearments cohabiting with complaints of waning libido and the smell Terry has left in the bathroom. Before the day is out, numerous crises will occur that will test the mettle of these two, but the outcome is never really in doubt.
The sensibility here is pure sitcom, less a bawdy, hip Friends than a wisecracking but stolid Brady Bunch, with life lessons to teach. Though he touches on issues of infidelity, loneliness, and deception, Pettey's interest is less in exploring the anxieties of aging gay coupledom than in making the familiar assertion that gay love is as "strong and real and true" as that shared by heterosexuals. "How can any love be unnatural when it comes from the heart?" asks Terry to Alan, when Alan's parents have revealed (for the first time! after 25 years!) that they oppose their son's relationship and way of life.
I suppose such uplift is still necessary. Acceptance, and self-acceptance, are just as difficult to find for some today, many years post-Stonewall, as they ever were. But Pettey has not quite been able to avoid making the sentiment dramatically inert, and there was something less than edifying in seeing middle-aged gay men having to console themselves in this way. (It doesn't help that anger is ruled out as an option. "Aren't you getting carried away?" asks Terry, when Alan raises his voice. Then they agree, in perhaps a poor choice of words, not to "shove [their] sexuality" down Alan's father's throat.)
The actors acquit themselves admirably. Carney Gray as the young-as-you-feel, stalwart Terry, and Bill Cooper as high-strung Alan, make a plausible and touching couple, and they are abetted by a strong and likeable supporting cast. Among them, Andre LeTendre finds humor and poignancy in his camp role, Isaac J. Loomer is charmingly flustered as an unexpected visitor, Kevin Carnahan is believably distraught as a man accused of sexual misconduct, and Carol Vnuk is very amusing as a model of deadpan wifely obedience. Director Karen Swager tends to block people in a line, center stage, but paces the action well, and handles the shifts in tone without too much disjunction.
Pettey's bio says that this is his first full-length play, "hopefully the first of many." He has talent, and should be encouraged. Perhaps next time he can venture a little further outside what is familiar to him, and surprise himself and us with what he finds.