A TASTE OF HEAVEN
nytheatre.com review by Tim Douglas Jensen
Firsthand Theatre Project’s A Taste of Heaven, by Michael D.
Jackson, is a FringeNYC "must-see." The play, based on the diaries of
F.S. Ryman (c. 1885), follows the journey of two college friends who
open up to each other about their sexual identities as they grow closer
and closer. Eventually, though the Victorian times they live in demand a
traditional married life, the two men go beyond the boundaries of
August 15, 2003
The action is driven by the two men writing to each other and making entries in their journals. The simplicity and sweetness with which Jackson has written these narratives captures what is pure about love and intimacy between two people…any two people. This simplicity and purity sets the tone and makes A Taste of Heaven much more than a "gay" play. (I also couldn’t help but long for the days before email, when writing letters and journals was still considered an art.)
Richard Gallagher and Andy Phelan are fine actors. Both deliver strong performances and are equally balanced when sharing the stage. It is refreshing to watch them live in these roles rather than see the "seams" so often evident in acting. Their sincere performances make the restrictions in the love between their characters that much more heartbreaking.
Chad Ryan masterfully directs, always paying attention to pace and smooth transitions. I was delighted never to have the urge to look at my watch and was surprised that the play was over as soon as it was.
If there is a flaw in the piece, it lies within the setting that the playwright has chosen to tackle. The sense of danger in admitting homosexuality in Victorian times is slightly underplayed. I never felt that it was enough of a concern.
Whether Jackson set out to or not, he has struck a chord: there are real parallels between the restrictions about love between two men and the rules of marriage in Victorian times, and our current debates about gay unions and the sudden wave of new questions about gay rights. I wish George W. Bush and the Pope could see this lovely Taste of Heaven.