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San Francisco by Richard Connema

New Conservatory Theatre Center
Opens 2004 season with
Taste of Heaven and Dooley One Acts

Also see Richard's review of Speaking in Tongues

The New Conservatory Theatre Center is presenting two one act dramas in their small bandbox theater: Michael D. Jackson's delicate drama A Taste of Heaven and Harry C. Cronin's provocative drama Dooley. Both feature talented actors Nick Sholley and Pete Caslavka.

Taste of Heaven
Pete Caslavka and Nick Sholley
The evening opens with the 55 minute A Taste of Heaven. This was a smash hit at the New York International Fringe last year and is making its first appearance here on the west coast. The two-man piece is based on the diaries of American poet F.S. Ryman, and the play follows the journey of two college friends in the late 19th and early 20th century. Ryan (Nick Sholley) was a confirmed womanizer while Rob (Pete Caslavka) described himself as a confirmed c---sucker. Ryan is a liberal sort and lets anyone do their own thing. He tells Rob that he is a homosexual, and Rob replies that he is not since he has slept with a woman. (Apparently, in the late 19th century, "homosexual" was a more determined word than "c---sucker.")

The friendship evolves into sexual intimacy and both try to reconcile their feelings for each other with the demands of a traditional society and the rules of marriage in Victorian times. Society demands that both marry the opposite sex, and this eventually occurs. The short piece then becomes a series of meetings and letter writing going until the death of Rob in 1920. Dan Bacalzo of Theatermania.com called the charming pastiche, "exquisite, touching and beautiful." The drama has a touch of Jane Austen in its telling. Both Nick Sholley and Pete Caslavka excel in their roles of secret lovers.

Harry Cronin's Dooley is a challenging drama based on the true story of much decorated Navy officer Dr. Thomas Dooley (Rick Sholley) who served his country during the early stages of the Vietnam conflict. This humanitarian helped refugees from the North escape to the South. Dooley became a foreign policy expert on relations in Asia before Vietnam and wrote a book on why America must stop the Communist tide from reaching Southeast Asia. Dr. Dooley has high security clearance with the government and he is their fair haired boy during that period. Dooley gives speeches throughout the land and his charisma is captivating.

Dr. Dooley starts to believe that he has over embellished the truth about American troops being in the Asian country. Also, the Navy suspects him of being a closet homosexual. The Navy must get rid of this "hero," so they set a trap for him. Dooley picks up a young sailor, Carroll (Peer Caslavka), in a hotel bar in New York. They retire to Nick's hotel room where they slowly begin their "sexual dance." Dooley does not realize that this handsome young sailor is working for the military in an undercover sting. Finally, Dooley admits to having sex with a young Vietnamese boy. This is enough to hang the unfortunate man. As the prologue states, Dr. Dooley was dishonorably discharged from the Navy for being a homosexual.

Dooley was workshopped at the Jon Sims Center in 2002 and it received great acclaim by the San Francisco critics. Gene Price of the S.F. Bay Times said, "This intensely believable drama is a powerful visualization of the government's once prevalent and still existing attitude toward gays in the military." Nick Sholley also played Dooley in that production. He is brilliant in the role. You can see the torture that Dooley is going through. He is torn between his patriotism to his country, his strong Catholic conscience that says he is damned and the hidden guilt of being a lover of men.

Pete Caslavka holds his own as the young masculine protagonist who entices Dooley with innuendos and several near kisses to make him confess to having a homosexual relationship with young Vietnamese boy. The banter between the two is exceptional.

Director Alan S. Quismorio keeps the actors in both one act plays from becoming over theatrical. Both use normal conversation and, even when Nick lowers his voice to talk about his night of ecstasy, he is bell clear. The director keeps the drama pure and heartrending, and the timing is perfect.

Both plays run through February 22 at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness near Market, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-861-8972 or visit online at www.nctcsf.org. Also appearing at the NCTC are Jonathan Tolins' off Broadway hit Last Sunday in June and Jack Heifner's Seduction.


Photo: Lois Tema


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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