Beyond Christopher Street
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
November 25, 2006
The men whose stories are being told in Beyond Christopher Street are all gay, but it's their humanity rather than their gay identity that's the focus here. That may not sound like a big deal, but it is, actually: gay theatre has been struggling to emerge from ghettoization and stereotyping for several decades or so, and it's still all too common for gay characters on stage to be portrayed as self-loathing or flamboyantly bitchy or, more often, both (look at Paul Rudnick's Regrets Only and Douglas Carter Beane's The Little Dog Laughed for two current examples).
So although the protagonists of A.B. Lugo's Ramble, David Pumo's Work Wife, Jonathan Kronenberger's A Kiss is Just a Kiss, and Mark Finley's Better Now are all unhappy—for how interesting a play can you write about people who have everything they want?—they're not unhappy because they're gay. Two of them are single and lonely and unsure of where to find love. And two of them are in complicated committed relationships of long-standing and lonely nevertheless. These are problems everybody has to deal with; it's refreshing to see them being tackled by these four playwrights, who are indeed among the front ranks of an emerging generation of indie gay theatre.
In Ramble we meet Frank, played with great intelligence and integrity by Michael Cuomo, who is waiting on a bench in Central Park for an assignation with an Internet chat buddy called "twinkieboy." Who he meets instead is a middle-aged divorcee named Meg who is looking for her dog. One of the things that's novel about Ramble is how up-front and unapologetic Frank is about his homosexuality and his current unabashed quest for sex, and how accepting and empathetic Meg is; as we get to know her, we discover that she's just as desirous of an intimacy she hasn't felt since her husband left her many years before. People are people, Lugo is reminding us, and sexual orientation is only a part of the bigger puzzle that defines where we ultimately find companionship. Carol Nelson is Cuomo's match as Meg in this tight, humorous, and surprising one-act, which is neatly directed by K. Lorrel Manning.
Better Now, which caps the evening, is also about a single gay man trying to navigate the heady and unsatisfactory waters of bars, clubs, and one-night stands. Played with great sensitivity and candor by Desmond Dutcher, this fellow has sought the assistance of a pair of "professionals" to help him feel happy. At first I thought that Rosie and Sunny were some kind of out-there aversion therapists, but as they role-play moments from their client's life it becomes clear that what's happening here is ultimately massively affirming. Under Steven McElroy's direction, Amy Bizjak delivers a show-stopping turn as Rosie (think Lea DeLaria as a singing and dancing dominatrix) and Chad Austin is very funny as her effete, word-mangling assistant. There are several musical numbers in this short play, with music by Paul Johnson and effective choreography by Rachel Lee Harris. This piece is another feather in the cap of rising young playwright Mark Finley.
The other two plays in Beyond Christopher Street are about the ways that couples complicate their lives when relationships start to turn stale or sour. David Pumo's Work Wife takes a fantastical look at an unusual threesome: a gay man with a steady lover of six years' standing and a best friend/confidante at the office whom he jokingly refers to as his "work wife." Who knows him better? And who loves him more? This frank comedy takes a number of entirely unexpected turns as it examines a phenomenon that doesn't just happen to gay people: what do you do when you love somebody but part of you is moving on and away from him? Moe Bertran, Karen Stanion, and Nick Mathews all give superlative performances as the three points of this unorthodox triangle. Antonio Merenda's staging is seamless though it might be improved by delineating the "reality" and "fantasy" sections of the piece a bit more clearly.
A Kiss is Just a Kiss is the most poignant piece on the bill. Jonathan Kronenberger's play might be a little longer than it needs to be, but its message is tender and touching as it introduces us to Xerxes and Armand, who are long-term partners professionally and personally. As the play begins, only Xerxes is at home to greet Todd, a handsome young man whom Armand has befriended online and persuaded to join them in a threesome. Apparently, this is something they do a lot, and Todd is intrigued and even gets into it for a while until the true nature of their relationship is revealed to him. Kronenberger is pretty fearless here, dealing forthrightly with a subject that's either entirely taboo or the stuff of tantalizing sensationalism or knowing winks. Andrew Shoffner (Xerxes), Jason Alan Griffin (Armand), and Zach McCoy (Todd) are excellent here, as is the work of director Glen Schudel.
The top-notch quality of all four scripts in Beyond Christopher Street and the equally fine production values and acting make this an exceptional evening of theatre. The show moves quickly and seamlessly from piece to piece, and at 90 minutes this is a program of one-act plays that never wears out its welcome. There's a fair amount of male pulchritude on view, if that's your thing, but mostly what's here are insightful and compassionate depictions of real people being human. Bravo to Wings Theatre and producer Roberto Cambeiro for bringing these plays together.