Saturday, May 17, 2008

Go West 'til you meet the East

A sail of many colors
photo by Dar

t will be smooth sailing for Gays in California, especially in Grail Castle San Francisco, now that there is marriage equality there.

Shall Dar and I say our sacred vows- To love, honor, and cherish each other through all eternity- for a third time? Vermont, Cape Cod, and San Francisco?

In the meantime, we shall turn to the magical land of Kalani and the Big Island of Hawaii...

The Starr Buddha at Kalani



As synchronicity would have it, I went to see Terrance McNally's latest play tonight at Actor's Express. As this review of the play, as produced in New York, reveals, gay marriage is at the heart of Some Men: The Atlanta production fits this review well:


8 Decades of Gay Men, at the Altar With History

“You wanna get married?” says the school librarian, breathing heavily, to the handsome Korean War veteran at what is clearly the beginning of a beautiful relationship. This is not quite a Barbara Cartland moment, given its context in “Some Men,” the surface-skimming, hit-and-miss new comedy by Terrence McNally that opened last night at the Second Stage Theater.

The setting is a gay bathhouse in the mid-1970s, a place and time when men were known to ask men to do all sorts of things, but marrying was usually not one of them. Yet the question — “You wanna get married?” — is more than frivolous, and it echoes throughout “Some Men.”

Frivolous was definitely the mood when Mr. McNally visited the baths before. “The Ritz,” his first Broadway success, was a farce that threw a heterosexual man (on the run from mobsters) into a homosexual bathhouse and watched him squirm. Mainstream audiences tended to leave “The Ritz” with the impression that gay men were wittier, better built, more sexually active and better versed in musicals and movies than most folks.

That impression is not dispelled by “Some Men,” a breezy series of sketches about gay American life through eight decades, directed by Trip Cullman. In setting a scene in a bathhouse in 1975 (the year “The Ritz” opened), Mr. McNally clearly means to signal the differences not only between then and now but also between the perspectives of the young farceur he was and the mature, probing playwright he has become.

To be honest, though, “Some Men” has little of the psychological texture and shading found in Mr. McNally’s best plays, like “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” and “Lips Together, Teeth Apart.” Nor does it exercise the tear-stirring emotional grip of Mr. McNally’s last previous group portrait of gay men, “Love! Valour! Compassion!”

An uneven assembly of symmetrical blackout sketches, “Some Men” is a parade of cleanly drawn types, zippy one-liners and sentimental set pieces, woven into a pageant of the ages à la “Cavalcade,” Noël Coward’s generations-spanning tribute to the stiff upper lips of the British. Like “Cavalcade,” it’s a celebration of clichés that a culture takes comfort in believing.

The hot-button topic of gay marriage is the running theme of “Some Men,” with the attendant questions that the subject invariably raises. “Some people think this marriage thing is going to be the end of gay life as it has been practiced on this planet for a hundred million years,” says a character in the opening scene, set during a wedding between two men at the Waldorf-Astoria.

But in skipping back through the decades, “Some Men” suggests that the instincts that make gay men both want and not want to be married have always been in place. A well-groomed banker, frolicking on a Southampton beach with his rough-hewn chauffeur in the 1920s, speaks wistfully of trying to find a way “to spend as much of my life with you as I can.”

Mr. McNally lightly traces patterns of loneliness and commitment, and the ambivalence his characters feel about both, through various times and places: a Harlem nightclub in 1932, where an entertainer known as Angel Eyes (Michael McElroy) meditates ruefully on the man who got away; a preppy piano bar in Greenwich Village on the day of the Stonewall uprising in 1969; a waiting room in an AIDS ward in 1989.

This is much-mined material, and it’s been dealt with more insightfully and originally elsewhere. But Mr. Cullman keeps things moving at the jaunty pace of a nightclub revue. And the agile, appealing cast members, notably Frederick Weller and Don Amendolia, seem to have a good time incarnating time-honored figures from the encyclopedia of gay archetypes (the hustler with a literary bent, the acid-tongued insult queen), as well as some latter-day additions (doting adoptive parents, dogma-spouting gender-studies students).

Occasionally, a sharply observed moment pierces through the glibness. A scene depicting an Internet chat room offers, in addition to the expected satire about make-believe identities, some droll observations on the difficulties of translating the classic gay sensibility into cyberspeak.

“Humor doesn’t travel on the Internet,” says one man (screen name: Camus), frustrated by his inability to convey vocal inflections to his chatmate. “At least, my kind doesn’t.”

Camus is portrayed by the playwright David Greenspan, who as an actor has repeatedly demonstrated just how much inflection counts. Though his roles in “Some Men” are among the hoariest — variations on the waspish stingmeister he played in a revival of Mart Crowley’s “Boys in the Band” — Mr. Greenspan uses his deadpan nasality to twist commonplace lines into uncommonly revealing stylishness.

He is saddled with a part that would send most actors running for cover: a transvestite who sings “Over the Rainbow” in a piano bar on the day of Judy Garland’s funeral. Yet as rendered by Mr. Greenspan, his body listing to one side and his voice pitched in a childlike murmur of reassurance, that most oversung of songs sounds fresh and heartbreaking.

“Over the Rainbow” isn’t just a time-encrusted anthem here; it’s a means of exploring a personality that, while very much of its time and place, is also uncompromisingly individual. And for one illuminating moment, one of the play’s title characters becomes specific instead of generic, something more than a grown-up boy in the band who may have a new set of instruments but still plays a familiar tune.


By Terrence McNally

And a photo from the Atlanta performance:

Photos - Some Men

Louis Gregory and Tim Batten
Louis Gregory and Tim Batten

1 comment:

  1. Just think, if we say our vows one state at a time, until the final state in our not-so-civil Union decides to come aboard, not only will we be the oldest gay brides in recorded history, but we perhaps we can also complete a super-nice china and silver service as well!

    "The Oldest Gay Brides in Recorded History" -- if we ever decide to write a joint auto-biography that could serve as a nice title!