Regional Reviews: San Francisco
The War at Home is a Well Crafted Drama
The War at Home's opening looks like a Norman Rockwell painting, with a woman sitting at a piano surrounded by five men singing a good old religious song. It's pure Americana in the old south. However, following the opening, we see things are not what they seem. Jason (Peter Matthews), who calls himself a "romantic transcendental agnostic," is the gay son of Baptist minister Bill (Alex Ross). Jason has retuned to Charleston from New York to mount a production of his new play, which champions gay marriage and challenges the Southern Baptist Church, just as the national press descends on the Southern city for the annual Spoleto Arts Festival.
Jason's mother (Adrienne Krug) lives in a dream world and refuses to believe that her son is homosexual ("It's just a passing phase," she says.) But Reverend Bill has put everything in perception and is ok with it. However, the good pastor becomes just a little ruffled when Jason tells him that he and his older New York lover Dave (not seen) went to Massachusetts to become legally married. Jason carries his wedding ring on a neck chain, hidden from the outside world.
Although Jason states to the world that he has been monogamistic since the wedding, he still has a hidden feeling for his childhood friend Reese (Jason Jeremy), the artistic director of the African-American theatre that is presenting the earth shaking play. It seems the two had quite a good time in bed when they were in high school. The subplot of the drama concerns homophobic assistant pastor Danny (Patrick MacKellan), who is drumming up a blitz of protest against the play. He is the over the top, indefatigable villain with no glimmer of compassion.
Playwright Brad Erickson presents a balanced view of the issue with a lot of cruel rhetoric coming from both sides. There is much going on in this two-hour, one intermission drama; some of the characters are not fleshed out, such as the villainous Danny and the artistic director Reese.
It's not clear what stand the playwright is taking on gay marriage since young good looking Jason is going around saying how much in love he is, even going on national television to proclaim it, but he renews his love or lust with his high school flame and decides to get a divorce from the New York mate.
Alex Ross is outstanding as the minister. He gives a poignant performance as a man trying to balance his conviction and church doctrine. He is loyal to his son's lifestyle even though it goes against the principals of his church. His long epiphany to the church elders at the end of the show is a tour de force of great acting. Peter Matthews gives an excellent performance of Jason, a still somewhat confused individual. You wonder why he wants to upset his family, whom he loves dearly, by presenting this play in their home town. Also, he is so strong for gay marriage at the beginning, but then wants a "gay divorce" because of a love, or what I see as lust, for Reese.
Jason Jeremy has down-to-earth energy in his portrayal of the bombastic Reese. He is compelling trying to determine if he is in love with Jason. Patrick Mackellan gives a one dimensional performance as the assistant pastor Danny. He has no saving grace in his Nazi-like moves against the reverend and his son. Adrienne Krug gives a good airhead performance as the mother who does not even believe in global warming.
Director John Dixon helms a smooth and smart production. Bruce Walters' set is a detailed middle class living room with individual scenes down front, stage right. Lighting by John Kelly is bright and clear.
The War at Home runs through November 11 at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-861-8972 or visit www.nctcsf.org. Their next production is Gregg Coffin's musical Convenience opening on November 11 and running through December 17th.