Bobby and Matt
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
August 14, 2011
Bobby and Matt charts the friendship of two men, from when they meet as eight-year-olds at Bobby's birthday party (in 1959) up until an event, more than 40 years later, that solidifies their relationship in an important way. Along the way, both become enormously successful in very different arenas. But their bonds remain strong, even as key moments in their lives serve to test that strength.
Bobby Williams (who morphs into Robert, Rob, and Bob at various stages of his life) is the one who's good at writing and theatre and bad at sports; teased by boys for being a sissy and, later, a "faggot." Matthew Barton, Jr. is the one who excels at football and wrestling, with a father who's a career army officer; he rescues Bobby more than once and also brings him on double-dates to high school proms.
Bobby grows up to become a famous gay writer. Matt grows up to become a Major General in the Army, and top presidential aide in a couple of Republican administrations.
Bobby always seems to understand the truth about his sexuality. Matt lives a long piece of his life in denial, eventually marrying a woman and fathering a child with her.
Playwright Kevin Cochran presents the story of Bobby and Matt in epistolary fashion, as a series of letters, postcards, and other missives that they have written to each other over the decades. Cochran, who is also the director, stages the play simply, with his two actors seated behind music stands from which they read their various epistles. Stephen Hope is assured and likable as Bobby. Gary Marachek is also likable as Matt, but his performance felt less fully realized, with too many fumbled line readings.
Many valuable and significant subjects are brought forth in the play, notably the central ones of sexual identity and homophobia (internalized and otherwise), and the hypocritical anti-gay policy of the American military, which ultimately drives the play's plot to its resolution. Cochran places his two characters at the center of many milestones of recent history: Matt fights in Vietnam and later helps mastermind Operation Desert Storm, while Bobby is shot at Kent State and is a keynote speaker at various gay rights marches in Washington, D.C.
Bobby and Matt has some important things to say, but I ultimately found it to be only moderately successful. One problem that kept cropping up was that these men's lives simply strain credulity. Cochran has them involved in too many famous events; plus it seemed to me that the likelihood of someone like Matt remaining best friends with someone like Bobby while both remained successful in their chosen fields seemed very small.
I'll note also that I'm not a fan of this style of drama. I constantly wanted the two men on stage to really interact with each other: to touch and converse instead of simply reacting to what the other wrote/said.
Finally, I felt that Cochran had stacked the deck a little unfairly in building these two characters. Bobby, the openly gay man, consistently demonstrates integrity and compassion, while Matt, the closeted gay man, compromises himself and others with poor decisions. How much more interesting a play might this have been had both the flaws and the strengths been more evenly distributed?