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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Richard Kramer's Theatre District is Given a Briskly Production with a Splendid Cast

Also see Richard's review of The Immigrant

Theatre District
P. A. Cooley and George Quick
The New Conservatory Theatre Center is presenting Richard Kramer's coming of age comedy drama, Theatre District. This first-time playwright, who is better known as a television writer for the series thirtysomething and My So-Called Life, has written a better than average television stage play which follows a highly intelligent 15-year-old boy named Wesley. The play could serve as a pilot for a television series based on his relationship with his gay father and domestic partner on the Logo Network. The small cast of excellent actors makes this 90 minute comedy-drama worth seeing.

Theatre District had its world premiere in 2002 at Steppenwolf Studio Theatre in Chicago and won Chicago's 2002-2003 Joseph Jefferson Award for New Work. It had a successful run at the Speakeasy Stage Company last year in Boston with "NYPD Blue"'s Bill Brochtrup in one of the lead roles. Theatre District was nominated for the 2004 Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for production, direction and writing when it played at the Black Dahlia Theatre.

Richard Kramer's play takes place in today's Manhattan in the theatre district around 42nd Street.  George (P.A. Cooley) and Kenny (George Quick) are in a domestic partner relationship of 10 years and live above a trendy restaurant run by George. George was an actor mostly in musical comedies before he became a restaurateur. Kenny is a gay rights lawyer who came out late in life. George is comfortable with his gay life while Kenny still seems to dodge the issues of being gay. He was married to Lola (Cynthia Myers), a very intelligent and liberal book editor, when she gave birth to Wesley.

Wesley (Sam Garber), now 15 years old, moves into George and Kenny's flat above the restaurant on a trial basis. Wesley is straight but does not mind that his father is in a gay relationship. Wesley wants to get to know his father but Kenny has so much self hate about being gay, he has no interest in knowing his son. George seems to be more of a parent, taking a personal interest in the boy's upbringing. When Wesley asks his father a straightforward question as to whether or not his dad considers homosexuality a choice, Kenny clams up, since he does not want to reveal his discomfort on being gay.

Wesley's best high school buddy is Theo (Joseph Holmes), an openly gay student who is attacked at school for his lifestyle. Wesley defends his buddy during the attack and suffers a black eye. Lola must decide along with her new husband Ben (Scott Alexander) if Wesley should move back with them after the incident. She wonders if George's influence on the boy is wise. However, Wesley decides to stay where he is, looking for more guidance from George. We won't know how the boy turns out unless the playwright decides to make this into a series.

Richard Kramer's dialogue is full of great one-liners and built-in rhythms that are reminiscent of his television writing.  The scenes are breezy and the direction by Dennis Lickteig is smooth. He uses the occasional "walk on" by a character who tells the audience of something past in their lives. The playwright also refers to Audrey Hepburn's role in the film The Nun's Story in reference to the character of George; he is a trustworthy, devoted, accommodating, supportive and kind person. (In the Boston production, the company actually used film scenes from the Warner Bros movie.)

Director Dennis Lickteig has assembled a top flight cast for the comedy-drama. Fourteen-year-old Sam Garber (Breakfast with Scott at NCTC) is a natural for Wesley. He is impeccable as the quizzical adult boy who has refreshing candor in his speech. George Quick (returns to the NCTC after playing Gideon in The Last Session several years ago) is excellent as the tightly buttoned-up dad. P.A. Cooley (The Man Who Came to Dinner, Love !Valour ! Compassion!), usually known as being a campy actor, turns serious as George and he shows the audience his heartwarming dramatic side.

Cynthia Myers (many 42nd Street Moon productions) is a natural as the mother Lola. She gives an unbeatable performance as a concerned parent even with her liberal leanings. Scott Alexander (Tomfoolery) is also top notch as stepfather Ben.   Joe Carrig is wonderful in his one hilarious showcase scene as Mario the bitchy maitre d' and buddy of George who laments the good old days of Times Square before the Disney invasion.  He also plays a hospital orderly who had a one night stand with George years ago when the latter entertained him with the film The Nun's Story.

Scott A. Wilber's set design is very minimal with a large convex screen in the background that would have been great to show the The Nun's Story clips. There is just a table and chair used as props on the clean stage with an uprising platform where characters come in and out at rapid speed to give us information about their past lives. 

Theatre District plays at the New Conservatory Theatre Center and has been extended through March 5th. You can obtained tickets by going online at www.nctcsf.org or calling 415-861-8972.


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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