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San Francisco by Richard Connema

The Shooting Stage Another Coming of Age Drama with Talented Actors

Also see Richard's reviews of Beautiful Child and Crowns

The Shooting Stage
Catz Forsman and Woody Taft
Canadian playwright Michael Lewis Maclennan’s The Shooting Stage is making its West Coast premiere at the New Conservatory Theatre Center through May 8th. This poetic exploration received mixed reviews when it played Off Off Broadway at The Culture Project this year. The Shooting Stage won the 1999 Herman Voaden National Playwriting Competition and premiered in Vancouver in 2001. Undoubtedly, other gay theatre groups will be producing this “coming of age” gay drama mixed with the political debate of art vs. obscenity.

Canadian playwrights seem to be flooding the gay theatre market these days, mostly with coming of age dramas. I sometimes wonder why all of these productions are preaching to the gay audience, since it is like bringing “coal to Newcastle.” I guess many of us identify with the person who is being picked on for being different. Michael Lewis Maclennan is best known as the supervising producer of Showtime’s Queer as Folk, and the teenage plot seems to be a reworking of some of the scenes that were seen during the first season of the successful series.

The playwright has mixed the obscenity trial of Robert Mapplethorpe controversy that is having its 15th anniversary this month along with a coming of age drama among three young men of high school age. The playwright is not all that successful in mixing the two, even with twists and turns and the linking of the five characters. Sometimes the scenes between the two plots become very jarring and confusing. Maclennan also throws in a little Greek tragedy and symbolism that involves an endangered trumpeter swan, with an ending that the ancient Greek playwrights would wonder about. The playwright would have done better just concentrating on the Mapplethorpe hullabaloo and forget about the typical high school drama of the three young lads. They just don’t mix.

The Mapplethorpe plot revolves around two former child stars who played brothers on a television sitcom for several successful seasons. When the show folded they, like many child stars, had to find other occupations. Apparently both were playing sex games with the “old man” (probably the producer or an older actor - we are never told) when the series was running. Len (Catz Forsman), the “younger TV brother” is now a portrait photographer who is up on an obscenity charge for photographing arty pictures, including photographs of his older TV brother Malcolm (Woody Taft) while they were teenagers. Malcolm is now an attorney and he successfully defends Len in court. In return Malcolm gets the negatives to destroy.

The second plot, which keeps breaking into the play, involves Elliott (Greg Ayers), a teenager who is extremely effeminate and wants to be a drag queen. He is the son of Malcolm, we learn in the second act. The high school trio also includes Ivan (Patrick Alparone), the son of a pig farmer (he even complains he smells of pigs); he wants to abandon farming and become a model. He is really not sure of his sexuality and carries a chip on his shoulder. The third member of this dysfunctional trio is Derrick (Brady M Woolery), a first class jerk or a future asshole. He is a defiant bully who makes Elliott’s life a misery. Derrick also has a secret as to why he is so against gays, since he is a male sex hustler on the side with Elliott’s father his main “John.” Of course, Elliott has the “hots” for the hunky pig farmer, and the sexual encounter in the second act becomes the essence of the Greek tragedy. The ending is strictly a symbolic gesture involving a swan (don't ask why).

The Canadian critics in Vancouver gave the production good reviews. I agree with the critic who said that “things change, constantly and rapidly” in this production. That is true, but they change too rapidly, giving a jarring movement to the whole production. This could be the fault of director Dan Oliverio since the scene changes could be smoother. Some of the scenes that should be very dramatic become almost comical, especially when Elliott is hiding in the closet when his father comes home one day. What should be a dramatic highlight turns out to be a little too comical. Also, just how Elliott, who must be underage, gets a job in a gay club as a drag queen is beyond me.

All five actors are very good in their roles with this impossible script. The young trio is excellent, with Greg Ayers making a perfect fey young man. His performance, especially in the last scenes, is excellent. He gives the character great humanity, even when he plays the drag scene. He has the moves down pat. Unfortunately, he does not have a singing voice and he attempts to sing a song in his own voice while practicing to be a “diva” and is completely off key. You can see why he lip synchs when appearing on the gay club stage.

Patrick Alparone gives an audience-pleasing performance. He plays the confused boy splendidly, especially in the scene when he is being photographed for headshots by Ben. His exuberance for being a model is effective. Brady M. Wooley gives a good performance as the bully, a character you could easily hate. The two adults are very good. Catz Forsman as Len gives a soul-searching performance as the photographer who firmly believes that his photos capture the soul of a person and are not pornographic. Woody gives an admirable performance as Taft Elliott's confused father. All five rise above the script that sounds like a TV sitcom.

The Shooting Stage runs through May 8th at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness off Market Street, San Francisco. Tickets available at the NCTC box office 415-861-8972. Howard Crabtree’s Whoop Dee Do opens on May 21.


Photo: Lois Tema


- Richard Connema



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