nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
March 24, 2007
If someone took our picture right now, I wonder if they would know we were gay men.
So says one of the characters in Terrence McNally's fine new play Some Men, and it may be the most powerful concept in a play that's filled to the brim with compelling ideas. This meditation on a century of progress and regress in gay American life proves, above all else, that no one gay "life" exists to be charted. The men of McNally's play are a doctor, a landscaper, a drag queen, a Harlem Renaissance gadfly, a hustler, a bartender, a piano player, a businessman, a chauffeur, a therapist, a soldier. They share something in common—and maybe only that one thing. Some Men explores who these men are, who they were made to be, and who they made themselves into. It's a story filled with dozens of little stories, all important, all of value.
It is, I think, the most sincere and authentic examination of its kind ever to find its way to the stage. Its rare honesty and candor make it one of the best plays McNally has written and one of the best plays of the current season. I love it for its insistent refusal to judge any of its characters, despite their myriad foibles and foolishnesses. The men of Some Men are shown to us, warts and all, with genuine respect and affection. They deserve it.
At the center of the play is a man named Bernie, an advertising executive who came of age in the '50s (he served in Korea). When we first meet him, he's having an awkward first sexual encounter with a handsome young hustler named Zach in a room at the Waldorf-Astoria:
Yes. I love my wife but sometimes I get these urges to be with a man so bad I think I'm gonna go crazy. I'm so tired of jacking off in our bathroom with Susan on the other side of the door in our bedroom. I want to go Yow! when I come, once, just once in my life, go Yow! and mean it. I want the whole world to hear me when I come. I want me to hear me.
The rest of the play charts Bernie's journey to Yow. He decides to come out to his wife (in the play's most rivetingly powerful scene, in which he confides in a closeted colleague in the same boat); he looks for sex hoping to find love (there's a funny and touching segment set in a bath house in the pre-AIDS '70s); and he eventually does find love with another man, and stability, and all the good things and bad things that such a relationship can bring.
Surrounding Bernie's saga are vignettes that together create a panorama of the gay male experience in New York from the 1920s through the present day. We meet Angel Eyes, a Harlem singer who was close to a famous lyricist; David and Padraic, a rich Jewish man and his Irish chauffeur, who is also his lover; and Perry and Marcus, a contemporary couple planning to adopt a child. Most memorably, we spend the night of the Stonewall Riot at a piano bar around the corner, where a bunch of self-described "show queens" are surprised to find a drag queen named Roxie suddenly in their midst. Roxie is played by David Greenspan, who stops the show with a gorgeous rendition of "Over the Rainbow" that is as touching as it is appropriate.
And there's much, much more: journeys to the AIDS ward at St. Vincent's and a group therapy session and an interview conducted by two young Queer Studies majors of a stable couple of many decades' standing and an Internet chat room. The whole play is framed by a wedding, a ceremony that encapsulates many of McNally's key ideas about assimilation in its many forms.
Oh, and there's music, music everywhere. Show tunes at the piano bar, "Ten Cents a Dance" at the Harlem dive, even an impromptu dance after the group therapy session: there's no getting around the fact that these men move to the beat, sometimes of a different drum and sometimes the same one as everybody else.
Some Men is cast shrewdly with nine actors who can sing and move, and everyone in the cast has at least one moment to shine. Michael McElroy does the Rodgers & Hart as Angel Eyes, Don Amendolia channels Merman in the Stonewall scene, and Randy Redd is the dependable piano man in segment after segment. Jesse Hooker, Pedro Pascal, and Frederick Weller do excellent work in a variety of roles each. Kelly AuCoin anchors the play beautifully as Bernie, with Romain Frugé delivering a tender but unsentimental performance as his long-term partner Carl.
The play has been staged with great care and intelligence by director Trip Cullman, and mounted lovingly by Second Stage Theatre, featuring a spare, elegant, and supremely versatile set by Mark Wendland, effective lighting by Kevin Adams, lots of terrifically appropriate costumes by Linda Cho, and an engaging soundscore by John Gromada.
But it's McNally's truthfulness and wisdom that makes Some Men feel so essential and human. This is a play with neither a chip on its shoulder nor its heart on its sleeve; it's funny and sad and playful and romantic and sexy; it's not political and it's not graphically in-your-face. (It is campy; it has to be.) It is, finally, about what it means to be a gay man, which takes in what it means to be gay and what it means to be a man: it's as epic and as intimate as that mission requires.