Friday, April 20, 2007

Review - Some Men (Second Stage Theatre)

Stage Buzz Review by David Pasteelnick

Terrence McNally could be considered by some as the still-living patron saint of gay theater. While I imagine he would chafe at such a limiting honorific, the fact remains that his body of work contains many seminal works of modern gay theater – The Lisbon Traviata, Lips Together, Teeth Apart, Love! Valour! Compassion!, Corpus Christi, the book for the musical A Man of No Importance – and now he adds to that list with Some Men, performing at Second Stage Theatre through April 22.

A collection of interlinked vignettes, Some Men attempts to chart the different shapes that intimate male-male relationships have taken over various decades of the 20th Century and into the 21st. While by no means a perfect work, Some Men does serve as a theatrical weigh-station, noting where the gay community has been, where it is now and even to some extent where it may be heading.

The play is book-ended by a gay wedding taking place at the Waldorf-Astoria. Various generations of gay men, both coupled and single, arrive and offer observations on the proceedings. From this jumping off point, the action see-saws through time, providing snapshots of life in the ‘20s, ‘60s, ‘70s, etc. The problem with snapshots is that sometimes you don’t get a full idea of what is happening in the photo, or the emotion or message that the artist attempts to convey is not fully realized. This is the case in a few scenes such as one at a military funeral. More fully realized moments take place on a beach in the Hamptons, a restaurant dining room at the Waldorf, and my personal favorite – a bench in Central Park.

I had the good fortune to attend an earlier version of this work when it was performed at the Philadelphia Theatre Company last summer. The play has evolved considerably since then, and while I felt a few scenes lacked the punch they packed in the prior incarnation, the play holds together much better as a whole now. The cast is uniformly strong, with some standout moments by David Greenspan as a drag queen during the Stonewall riots, Michael McElroy as a Harlem Renaissance nightclub host, and Don Amendolia in a variety of scene stealing roles. Consideration must also be given to Kelly AuCoin and Romain Frugé whose moving portrayal of a couple at various stages of their relationship provides audiences with a crucial through-line that grounds the piece.

Director Trip Cullman, who has helmed several of my favorite Off-Broadway works, provides a sure hand to the proceedings, making a clear narrative out of what could have been a chaotic evening and keeping the pace brisk and engaging. He steers clear of mawkish sentimentality and never lets a joke hijack a scene. The simple (ornate chandeliers notwithstanding) and extremely flexible and functional set was designed by Mark Wendland. Linda Cho’s attractive and effective costumes play a vital part in keeping the proceedings coherent. Kevin Adam’s evocative and at times humorous lighting and John Gromada’s nostalgia-inducing sound design also do their part to make the overall evening extremely enjoyable.

Some Men may not be all men and it may not have reinvented gay theater, but it provides a brisk, effective, and at times moving tour of what it means and has meant for a man to love another man.

Written by Terrence McNally
Directed by Trip Cullman
Set Designer: Mark Wendland
Costume Designer: Linda Cho
Lighting Designer: Kevin Adams
Sound Designer: John Gromada
Assistant Set Designer: Rachel Nemec
Assistant Costume Designer: Terese Wadden
Assistant Sound Designer: Bridget O’Connor
Production Stage Manager: Lori Ann Zepp
Stage Manager: Stephanie Gratton

Featuring Don Amendolia, Kelly AuCoin, Romain Frugé, David Greenspan, Jesse Hooker, Michael McElroy, Pedro Pascal, Randy Redd, and Frederick Weller.

Second Stage Theatre
307 W. 43rd Street

Through April 22nd