nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
May 26, 2007
Some theatre is good drama. Some drama is important theatre. Facing East—Plan-B Theatre Company's production of Carol Lynn Pearson's new play—is both.
It takes place at a cemetery in Salt Lake City, Utah. Alex and Ruth McCormick have just buried their son, Andrew, 24, who killed himself because he could not find a way to live with himself. Andrew was gay, and despite a loving relationship with a man named Marcus that had gone on for the past year, he was stuck in a cycle of self-hatred and deeply entrenched guilt. Andrew was also a Mormon, and the Mormon Church says homosexual behavior is a sin.
The play, though, is much more about Alex and Ruth than it is about Andrew. Alex is a successful radio talk show host—his program, "One-Minute Dad," has a couple million loyal listeners in the American Southwest, and it's about to make a bid for national syndication. Ruth is, as her Church tells her to be, a steadfast homemaker, wife, and mother. They have two other children. They loved Andrew, encouraged his musical gift (he played cello in a symphony orchestra), but couldn't accept his homosexuality:
No one in that chapel knew him! [Alex says, graveside] No one should be allowed at a funeral who does not know the person who died. I should not have been allowed at Andrew's funeral!....I need a new funeral! A service that speaks the truth.
Facing East depicts this second, important funeral, one in which Alex and Ruth will, for the first time, confront the reality of who their son was, and what their beliefs and actions did to him.
The older I get, the more I realize how much I don't know. But so many people—Ruth is absolutely one of them—are unwavering in their faith. For me, the most important lesson of Facing East is that understanding people like Ruth, who believe devoutly and unquestioningly what they've been taught by parents, teachers, and pastors, may be difficult, but it's essential. Others may be moved by the play's strong stand for gay pride: "God loves me and I am gay," proclaims Marcus, Andrew's partner and lover, at one point. Whatever you take from Facing East will be your truth. What's important is to hear this play, and take its messages to heart.
Pearson, a Mormon whose husband eventually came out to her as a gay man (and eventually died from AIDS), knows her characters inside and out, and depicts them here vividly and compassionately. Jerry Rapier, who directed Facing East and is also Plan-B's producing director, has realized Pearson's vision beautifully in a production that's precise yet spare. Charles Lynn Frost (Alex), Jayne Luke (Ruth), and Jay Perry (Marcus) have lived with these characters for half a year now (Facing East debuted last November in Salt Lake City) and they've really gotten inside their skins, creating living, fully-dimensional individuals on stage. We must be grateful to all of these artists for sharing this work and bringing it to New York, where we can experience the loves and sorrows of these pained, imperfect souls.