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A CurtainUp Review
Terrence McNally's Some Men is in world premiere at Philadelphia Theatre Company. Philip Himberg, Producing Artistic Director at Sundance Theater Institute Laboratory, directs. He actually got the ball rolling when he asked McNally to write a play with the idea of American popular music's influence on gay men as a starting point.
Although it begins at a gay wedding, Some Men is not about same-sex marriage per se. It's about relationships between gay men and about gay life going back through the years. People won't rush off to sign petitions for gay marriage as a result of seeing it; however, the show may be successful in inviting audiences to be open, as McNally says, "to sharing space on this planet with people who are different from them."
A moving and funny encyclopedia of relationships rather than a narrative play, it is composed of many separate pieces, like a patchwork quilt with patterns that run through it, relating some squares to each other. I am hesitant to use the term "scenes" as it might give the wrong idea. These vignettes do not operate like traditional scenes, since the play is neither plot nor character driven. More Hallmark than cutting edge, it is an antidote to spare, postmodern theater. And although not a musical, the show reflects the original concept in its songs, many sung by female divas.
Himberg's adept direction guides the action through different times and places. Some vignettes have continuing characters, while others are set pieces, like fantasies. There's the young Irish chauffeur in the 1920s who has been seduced by his wealthy Jewish boss. In one of the most delectable stories, two gay male Gender Studies majors from Vassar interview two old queens in Washington Square as part of an oral history project on the "pre-Stonewall, non-liberated and repressed generation." Hysterical.
What will become apparent to anyone not aware is that within the gay community also there has been a need for acceptance of differences. An oblique view of Stonewall, cleverly set up, very neatly makes the point about who took the lead in the famous riot. As drag queen Bunny aka Archie, who has not been well received in an old time gay bar says, "God did not create us in his fucking image to fucking judge one another. " A beat. "Do you think I say fuck too much?" And also, "We owe Barbra so much--the courage to look ourselves." Exposure to a more radical stance leads to introspection in long-time patrons: "We've become what we never wanted to be, two queens sitting in a bar listening to show tunes and talking about Judy Garland."
Each member of the terrific ensemble plays five or six parts. Particularly notable are Don Amendolia, Suzzanne Douglas, and John Glover, who have sweetheart roles and hit just the right note every time throughout the play.
This is a lush, mixed bouquet of sex, pain, and laughs, and sometimes big laughs happen in the painful parts. Not quick montage, situations are presented with depth and poignancy. Time is taken to get to the heart of each little story. For this reason the play is quite long, and I would nominate a same-sex parents scene, not quite as successful as the rest, for the pruning shears.
The opening night audience included a veritable who's who in Philadelphia theater, with plenty of artistic directors, directors, and actors per square foot. Along with beaucoup press there was a good-sized contingent of extremely well dressed same-sex couples. (I'd like to know their tailor. And their hair was perfect.) Audience response complemented the performance and the biggest laughs were laughs of recognition at touchstones for gays.
As enjoyable as it is, the work is not without problems. The arrangement of time in non-chronological order might be intended to control emotional temperature, allowing tonality to build; nevertheless, at times the juxtaposed pieces, which just keep coming, are too different from each other, so moods change and don't always crest, and the end is just a little lame because more of a crescendo is needed at the finish.
McNally throws everything at you--clichés, music, amazing sensitivity, queer jokes, ups and downs, tops and bottoms, living and dying, camp and dead serious, new and old, laughter and tears. There are 8 million gay stories in the Naked City and Terrence McNally is telling them: faith-based chat room cruising, hetero marriages, support groups, show queens, drag queens, and hustlers. This is a big, generous, multi-faceted, ultimately joyful smorgasbord with an implicit plea for acceptance. Some Men is chock full of entertainment for all walks; however, it's the members of the gay community who can identify and who will appreciate it most.
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6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by our editor.
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