Chicago Theatre Review
Time Changes Everything
A sharply directed, slickly produced play about gay rights that time travels between 1958 and 2008 has its Chicago premiere, and just in time for Gay Pride month. Under Bonnie Metzgar’s direction, the production is intelligent, tight and stylized, playing up both the humor and angst, as well as the many social issues this play examines. The final curtain will result in audience members devoting hours in thoughtful discussion as they ponder and debate the play’s message and the production’s power.
An interesting relationship evolves between three people when Sylvia, a former actress, introduces her husband, Philip, to Oliver, her children’s book collaborator. Something unspoken occurs between the two men when they’re left alone and, as it turns out, will grow and continue over the next fifty years. Philip and Oliver’s relationship evolves and then festers as Philip discovers Oliver’s penchant for anonymous sexual encounters with men in public places. Their kinship begins to unravel as Sylvia comes to understand what’s been happening under her very nose. The cautiously uptight ’50’s, while offering very little in sexual freedom for gay couples, does provide a certain safety net of rules and expectations. Not so cut and dry is the new millennium’s attitudes and tenets with those freedoms, now bestowed upon the LGBT community, sometimes presenting more rigidity than in the past. And, as audiences watch this play, they’ll notice how 2008 now seems to be a long time ago, as more freedoms are granted and additional rights are won.
The four actor ensemble are experts at maneuvering between the different story lines and eras. Acting styles, perfect dialects and mannerisms, just the right intensities, even the metaphoric shedding of clothes as the play progresses forward and retreats into the distant past, are all accomplished with style and professionalism. John Francisco’s Philip, who is a Noel Coward-like husband in the beginning, turns into a callous and sadistic creature by Act II. Patrick Andrews is a charming and needy sexual creature with little control over his kinky appetites. Jessie Fisher is incredible as Sylvia, especially as she transforms between time periods right before the audience’s eyes. Benjamin Sprunger is controlled and chameleon-like as the Man, Peter and finally the Doctor.
William Boles’ sparse set design allows for eerily smooth transitions between time and place, providing translucent walls through which the audience is able to witness characters literally stripping away their former persona only to emerge in another form. Becca Jeffords‘ specific lighting design keeps the mood and focus exactly where it needs to be in each scene, ably supported by Stephen Ptacek’s unique sound palette. Anita Deely has accomplished excellent dialect work with her quartet of actors and John Tovar’s fight choreography appears realistic, even in this intimate space.
This Midwest premiere will truly soon turn into a genuine period piece as 2008 rapidly becomes past history. But for now, Alexi Kaye Campbell’s look at how gay pride and passion have evolved (and will continue to do so at a faster pace) is definitely worth a look. Like her production of About Face’s “The Homosexuals,” Bonnie Metzgar has orchestrated her production to serve as the perfect play for Chicago’s month of Gay Pride. This is a play that says so much about who we are and who we’ve become.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented June 6-July 13 by About Face Theatre at the Victory Gardens Richard Christiansen Theatre, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling 773-871-3000 or by going to www.aboutfacetheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions may be found at www.theatreinchicago.com.