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Bright Colors and Bold Patterns

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray - December 19, 2016

Drew Droege
Photo by Russ Rowland

There may be no sadder or more sobering experience than getting what you always thought you wanted or needed, only to discover downsides you never imagined possible. That chilling notion is front and center in the lively but uneven Bright Colors and Bold Patterns, the serious one-man comedy written by and starring Drew Droege that just opened at the Barrow Street Theatre in a production directed by the actor Michael Urie. And the issue in question is one that, to judge by most commentators, is no longer in question at all, but may not be as open-and-shut a matter as has been believed: gay marriage.

Specifically, whether it's a good thing for gay men or merely a different kind of trap into which they can fall. The camps in Bright Colors and Bold Patterns are precisely articulated. Brennan Kyle Newkirk and Joshua Christopher Pierson believe in it; they're getting married in Palm Springs tomorrow. And, it seems safe to assume, most of the guests they've invited, who are staying in the sunny but gaudy guest house that functions as the set (it's designed, with humorous Golden State flourishes, by Dara Wishingrad), believe in it as well. But Gerry, who's recently arrived directly from L.A. might be a holdout.

He objects, he explains soon after arriving (while nursing a Corona he can obviously barely tolerate), to the notion expressed on Brennan and Joshua's wedding invitation that no one in attendance at the ceremony wear the kind of clothes the play's title describes. "It's telling us to be quiet," he says, a directive Gerry couldn't accommodate even if he wanted to. With a sharp, bitchy tongue and little sense of conventional propriety, he displays no apparent compunction about sharing anything and everything on his mind, particularly with his (considerably) former boyfriend Dwayne, and Dwayne's new, much-younger squeeze, Mack, who represent two very different points on the spectrum of contemporary gay awareness.

But as Gerry reveals his more defining compunctions ("You haven't seen the Lifetime original movie Invisible Child starring Rita Wilson?", he shrieks to Mack at one point), it becomes unavoidably evident that he has structured his personality and his life around standing out, even among his like-minded friends, and that's a quality that may no longer be desirable by anyone. "Aren’t you just a little bit scared?", he asks. "That all of a sudden, we’re in this race to be normal, whatever that means. Is that really the goal?"

After working for nearly four decades trying to make himself stand out, he has no immediate wish to make himself just like everyone else merely because that's the zeitgeist. And Gerry's almost-magical distinctiveness bears out his choice: He's warm, funny, and enveloping enough that you don't want him to have to hide behind anyone or anything. And yet, he believes, that's just what his own closest friends and social compatriots are now asking him to do.

Gerry spends most of the intermissionless 70-minute evening trying to justify himself to the new world he's entered, and to himself: to explain why his personality is, despite outward appearances, the most normal one around. This takes on forms both outlandish (a paean to Olympia Dukakis) and disquieting (in relating a memory of the Sunday school teacher who succeeded all too well insulting him by calling him a "thespian"), but succeeds quite well at showing how one man—and, so it's implied, one culture—views a loss that much of the outside world may have trouble recognizing or anticipating.

Droege varies his writing well, keeping Gerry on a constant if unpredictable track from skepticism to acceptance, and acting-wise imbues him with a delicious flamboyance that's always rooted in the realistic. You don't think, as you easily could, that this is a man controlled by his passions. No—he controls them, he just gives them a wide berth. And when he lets go, and unveils a more broken and uncertain person beneath them, the effect is a powerful one because you see just how much who he is, and who's being forced to not be, matters to him.

One does wish this moment were better integrated into the whole, however. It occurs after a clichéd scene of drunken, drug-drenched revelry that suggests Gerry can only be pushed to introspection through external forces, something that does not seem true of the character as constructed. And despite the weight foisted by the secondary characters, including Gerry's absent boyfriend Greg and his on-hand enemy Neil, none of them comes across as vivid or entirely necessary, and the lengthy "conversations" Gerry has with them do not, as is so often the case in one-person plays, convince as dialogues. A more focused, pungent journey into Gerry's mind would convey at least as much about his confusions as this, and most likely more.

Urie's staging is simple and stark, and keeps your attention riveted where it belongs: on Gerry, as he works to come to terms with an existence he no longer understands. Whether he succeeds before the lights come down for the final time is somewhat open to interpretation, and what the future holds for him is unknowable. But despite its momentary weak spots, the play surrounding him does an excellent, entertaining job at rendering him in exactly the adventurous palettes and textures that invitation so openly decries. Whatever his wardrobe ends up being at the wedding, his clear-eyed steadfastness leaves you assured that he is not programmed to succumb completely, regardless of how the winds of time shift. As Gerry so defiantly puts it: "Someone please tell me where I can find khaki on the rainbow."

Bright Colors and Bold Patterns
Through December 30
Barrow Street Theatre, 27 Barrow Street
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: OvationTix