nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
January 29, 2005
Jan Buttram says, in an earnest program note, that her play Texas Homos is about the tragic consequences of repression. It seems to me, however, that this sad little drama is actually about power, and how somebody who has—or thinks he has—a lot of it might delude himself into believing that society's laws and rules don't apply to him.
I think that Reed Birney feels this way about Texas Homos too, because he plays his character, a prominent doctor whose sexual misconduct has caught up with him, as pretty much a ringer for Bill Clinton. And certainly Dr. Cecil Ray Bonner—a wealthy, handsome, glad-handing middle-aged butterfly in a marriage of convenience and with an eye for pretty young things of either gender—has the hubris of the former president, as well as his propensity for splitting hairs about sex acts and their terminology. When we first meet Cecil, he's being herded into a supply closet in his lawyer's office, awaiting arraignment for public lewdness—he has spent the night in jail following an arrest in a men's room in a public park. Yet he's cranky, even cocky, as he alternately coaxes and bosses his attorney Harold D. Carney into doing whatever it takes, from blackmail to outright lies, to fix the case. And he's buoyantly confident that he'll be waltzing out of this situation, reputation intact, in time to catch this afternoon's Longhorns game.
Is Cecil gay? His best friend and fellow arraignee Jim Bob Mason seems to think so (and I assume Buttram does as well). But on the evidence presented here, it's hard to make a convincing case. He's been married (three times!) to the same woman for several decades, and he's just recently ended a long affair with Harold D.'s comely secretary Judy Kay. He admits to many other affairs with women in the past. His voracious sexual appetite also includes anonymous trysts with strange men in places like the public bathroom where he met his would-be Waterloo; and it's hinted that he may have fooled around with Jim Bob from time to time. Does this make him a homosexual? Seems like he's bisexual, if you feel the need to label; more precisely, it seems like he's nursing some serious problems with inferiority rooted in his impoverished childhood (hinted at in the play) that make him "get off" on the power trip of seducing, well, everybody.
Now, I don't mean to psychoanalyze Buttram's fictional character, but her program note, in which she talks about the way her fellow Texans label certain people as "sissies" and "tomboys," begs the question. Cecil refuses to be pegged as gay because he doesn't want to risk losing the status and security that he believes (possibly correctly) his heterosexuality affords him in his conservative Texas town. But wouldn't someone who actually seems to have genuine feelings of affection for someone of the same sex make a better poster boy for Buttram's thesis? Doesn't building a play about tolerance for sexual orientation around a reprehensible sex addict counteract the playwright's good intentions? And—compounding the problem—why is the only openly gay character in the play so stupid and backward that he appears to be mentally deficient?
So Texas Homos backfires badly, from its offensive title to its near-constant allusions—often defensible in context—to a lying, cheating "faggot," i.e., Cecil, who is referred to in this manner more than once by both his wife and his former mistress. Buttram wants to enlighten the audience with a tragedy about the pitiful existence of closet cases in the Heartland—a really admirable objective. But what she's written almost never touches on that subject at all.
It's a shame because it needn't have been so: the ideas and impulses behind Texas Homos are humane and sound. I imagine that's what attracted such a top-notch team to try to bring it to life—in addition to Birney, the actors are the estimable Richard Bekins (as Jim Bob, who is a Methodist preacher), Karen Culp (as Judy Kay), David Van Pelt (as Harold D.), and Michael Busillo (as Delbert Simmons, the dim young man arrested with Cecil and Jim Bob); all but Busillo do excellent work, and Busillo fails to do so only because the character he's been given is nonsensical. Melvin Bernhardt's staging is straightforward and tight, and James F. Wolk's realistic set provides an appropriate environment for the drama to play out.