Regional Reviews: Seattle
A Pride Weekend View of REACT's
Running through next weekend is the Repertory Actors Theatre (REACT) Seattle premiere production of the gay themed play The Last Sunday in June. I was a big fan of Tolins' clever, semi-science fiction tragicomedy Twilight of the Golds in which a close family is torn apart by the discovery of a test that can predict a baby's predilection for hetero or homosexuality. Though not a Broadway hit, I felt in that script, Tolins hit a perfect balance between laughter and devastating family drama. The Last Sunday in June wants to be funny (which it often is) and heart wrenching (which it misses out on by getting too melodramatic).
Tolins' intention to comment on other gay plays (especially The Boys in the Band) in a contemporary milieu is initially smart sit-com clever but wears as the show goes on, showing a seemingly happily coupled pair of gay males, Michael and Tom, spending what is supposed to be their last Pride Sunday in June before they move from a Christopher Street rental in NYC to a house with a mortgage in suburbia. Michael's plans for a day trip to Pottery Barn are shoved aside when Tom starts inviting friends, both close and casual, to watch the Pride Parade from their apartment. Gradually catty, campy quips and eyeing the boys in the passing parade turns into a near inquisition of by Tom's old college boyfriend James, who announces his plans to marry a woman. Tom's vehement opposition to such a union ignites a serious conflict between him and Michael, which seems destined to desolate their seemingly idyllic union.
Director David Hsieh has rounded up a very satisfying cast, and aided them in giving relatively natural performances, which largely compensate for the script's weaker and more obvious moments. Rob MacGregor as Michael is that joyous actor who makes you pay attention to him, not by hamming it up but by listening and reacting to his co-stars so well, even though he has fewer laugh lines than several in the company. Austin Farwell as Tom nails the sort of people pleasing type of man who wants to be everyone's best friend yet ends up alienating everyone he knows when he pushes his own beliefs too hard. MacGregor and Farwell are 90% successful in making us believe they are a flesh and blood couple, until they both wander too far into maudlin histrionics in their closing scene, certainly something director Hsieh could and should have helped reign in.
As the youngest (and perhaps most honest) of the circle of friends, Marc Dela Cruz as Joe is funny and endearing. Dennis Kleinsmith hits all the right notes as the caustic yet wise opera queen Charles, the one member of the group who was around when the Stonewall riots were a newspaper headline and not a footnote in some history of gay liberation. ShawnJ West garners big, effortless laughs and elicits compassion as the still feisty Brad, and Jadd Davis provides late in act two eye candy and easygoing charm as the shirtless Scott, who drops in to relieve himself after a long day at the parade. Tad Shafer handily negotiates the tough role of James and makes it clear that while just marrying a woman won't make his life perfect, he shouldn't have to justify the decision to a roomful of mostly unfamiliar gay men. Angela DiMarco as his bride-to-be Susan, brightens up the increasingly less humorous (and less successful) stretches of Tolins' tale, making it easy to see why James would chose a monogamous straight marriage in his quest for intimacy.
REACT deserves points once again for choosing a play that the Equity houses have bypassed and, despite its textual weaknesses, Last Sunday in June is a production that definitely warrants a thumbs up.
The Seattle Men's Chorus Pride concert Our Mighty Men clearly showed that the large and always well attended group's tremendous vocal skills are at an all-time high. But it also came across as the most somber event in recent history. Leading off with a song from the docu-spoof film comedy A Mighty Wind, there was much more of a leaning towards genuine folk music, from "If I Had A Hammer" to "Blowin' in the Wind", "A Simple Gift" and "Turn, Turn, Turn." On the lighter side, a Hootenanny medley that closed act one with an audience sing-along to "Puff the Magic Dragon" was welcome and up-lifting.
SMC veteran drag chanteuse Arnaldo Inocentes provided the comedic high watermark of the second act with a Patsy Cline eat your heart out rendition of "She's Got You," in which he wrestled such hilarious (and hard to conceal) items as a crutch from underneath his cowgirl gown. The men of the Captain Smartypants choral ensemble also tickled the funny bone with a novel set of "Cowboy Haikus" written by Associate Choral Director Eric Lane Barnes. Predictably a "Brokeback Mountain" inspired musical section was heartfelt and most welcome in its non-satirical approach, since any Brokeback parody was old even before the movie opened.
The closing section began movingly with an ode to "Harriet Tubman," a moving encore of their holiday concert number, a stirring plea for religious tolerance of Jewish people in a (virtually all christian) rural Montana town.. That was all well and good, but what followed was a three song Peace medley which may have intended (and achieved) leaving not a dry eye in the house, but it was just too heavy, with too much sermonizing. And preaching to the converted. I sincerely hope that the dedicated and hugely talented Dennis Coleman, artistic director/conductor of the SMC will remember that a balance between laughter and tears is always preferable. We have enough media reminders about war, AIDS, gay-bashing, bigotry, dirty politics and global warming day in and day out. We need entertainment, not sermonizing. And boy do we ever need it now.
REACT Theatre's The Last Sunday in June runs through July 2 at Theatre Off Jackson, 409 Seventh Ave S near the corner of 7th & Jackson in Seattle's historic International District. Go to www.reacttheatre.org for more details. For 2006-2007 Seattle Men's Chorus season info go to flyinghouse.org.
- David-Edward Hughes