BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
The Last Sunday in June
by Les Gutman
It's not that it lacks the markers of the quintessential gay play -- they are celebrated humorously and in abundance. But what Tolins has attempted is to move forward, to depict a culture that has moved on, in its head at least, since the days of gay liberation and AIDS. What he ends up proving, in large part, is that "the more things change, the more they stay the same".
The familiar setting is the West Village apartment shared by Michael (Johnathan McClain), a lawyer, and Tom (Peter Smith), a school teacher. They've been a couple for seven years, and soon they will be fleeing to Nyack, abandoning the Christopher Street beachhead of "old" gay culture. Today the Gay Pride Parade marches outside their window, but their agenda is to escape to the more evolved gay mecca of Pottery Barn. Then the phone rings, and Joe (David Turner), a young actor, calls and wants to come over. Before you can snap a finger, a full-fledged party is in gear, as Brad (Arnie Burton), an HIV+ friend struggling to remain young and vibrant and who is a writer at Entertainment Weekly, Charles (Donald Corren), an older opera queen, James (Mark Setlock), Michael's ex and the author of a gay novel who is the angry thorn in the side of this party when he announces he is abandoning gay culture altogether and getting married to Susan (Susan Pourfar), who also shows up later, and Scott (Matthew Wilkas), the obligatory shirtless hunk, arrive as well.
Tolins does several things quite well, so well in fact that they quickly begin to work at cross-purposes with one another. He evokes the cross-section of characters and their interaction exceptionally well, and his writing is chock full of wry, often bitchy jokes. (Chief among these is a running gag in which the characters answer the question of what would happen next if we were writing a gay play about ourselves by anticipating this play's action.) Although he teases the cultural model with trenchant observation, he undercuts it with punchline after punchline. It's not that the latter is unentertaining; the disappointment is that Tolins was on the edge of something terrific, and settled instead for more of a parody. His choice, of course, but not one I'm going to forcefully applaud. As disclosure of infidelities sends the relationship of Michael and Tom into a tailspin, the ending plays out a bit too publicly, and then a bit too promptly, to be believed much less appreciated.
I can be more vigorous in my praise for the performances, which are uniformly on point, and generally well-calibrated. McClain and Smith play bass notes as a symphony of voices are heard: Turner and Burton play the high notes, Corren adds a fittingly mature tone, Setlock sings in an emphatic and unbreakable counterpoint while Wilkas offers a few surprises. Trip Cullman's direction is sure-footed, even if I might have preferred a little less loyalty to Tolins' comedic punctuation. The vision of his designers is on target throughout.
James asks, "Do you have to turn everything into a fag joke?"