nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
May 17, 2007
How often, in so-called mixed company, have you seen someone tell a blatantly homophobic joke? The jokester is certain that it's "okay" because s/he's certain that no one in the room is gay.
Chances are, if the crowd is big and/or diverse enough, that somebody is...and that somebody has just been wounded to the core. Gay men and women (despite what they tell you in Legally Blonde) are very good at appearing to be straight. What does that cost?
Competing Narratives, a fine new (and first!) play by A.B. Asher, explores this subject, among others, with intelligence and compassion. It tells the story of a one-time gay activist named Adam who is interviewed, after more than a decade out of the limelight, by a popular public radio journalist named Henry Panquet. Adam was, and still is, what Henry innocently terms "a regular guy"—by which I mean that Adam doesn't have any effeminate or flamboyant mannerisms, he doesn't dress fussily or with particular style, and he doesn't seem to be a big fan of opera or disco. But in college he came out, not just to himself but to the whole world, because he had come to understand that the only way to get people to stop hating gay people was to get them to stop making assumptions about them, and the only way to do that was to let them discover that a regular guy like him was, in fact, one of "them."
Asher, using Adam as his mouthpiece, makes a good case for all gay men and women to out themselves here. But the playwright also looks at the very real personal ethics of outing; and one of the most powerful moments in the play comes when Adam explains why he has stopped practicing activism, after observing first-hand the effects of hating any group of human beings irrationally and en masse.
I said Henry used the words "regular guy" innocently just now, but of course the point is that anybody who thinks in terms of stereotypes rather than specific cases is not particularly innocent at all. Especially not Henry, who, we learn, has some interesting secrets of his own.
Asher's play is comprised of a strong first act and a somewhat anticlimactic (and much shorter) second act; I wondered if the piece would work better without the break. But it's very successful, thought-provoking writing nevertheless, and under director Margarett Perry's firm and unobtrusive hand, it makes for excellent, riveting theatre. Matthew Boston gives a brilliantly well-thought-out, humane performance as Adam, with Sebastian LaCause and Michael Vaccaro providing strong support as, respectively, Henry and Adam's partner Gibby.