Chicago Theatre Review
Rainbow History Through Storytelling
Some Men – Pride Film and Plays
Can there be a better way to learn about the past than by experiencing it through the stories of those who lived it? Tony Award-winning playwright Terrence McNally’s panoramic view of nearly a century of gay history, as seen through the lives of dozens of characters, is as wonderfully entertaining as it is enlightening. Co-directors David Zak and Derek Van Barham have collaborated to create this almost flawless anthology of interwoven stories that chart the lives and times of the gay population in NYC. The play introduces audiences to these characters, along with their families, friends and lovers, and takes us through their individual and collective journeys to the present. McNally paints a highly entertaining, ever-evolving landscape of American gay culture, from 1922 to the present; and while some episodes of this collection play better than others, the overall effect is uniformly stunning.
Scenic designer Tianyu Qui meets the challenge of turning Rivendell’s intimate stage into a stylish, yet adaptable set upon which all these characters can play and share their stories. Aided by Ellie Humphrys’ moody lighting and utilizing minimal props and furnishings, Qui’s design provides a nice traffic flow for the actors while breaking up the space with simple panels, doorways and abstract artwork. Further enhanced by a sound design that instantly captures each era, this play stands out as one of PF&P’s most polished productions.
Certainly this entire talented cast is nothing if not versatile, with most of the actors morphing into several diverse characters in the time it takes to exit and reenter the stage, adding only a costume piece to help create the illusion. Each of the ten actors shine in one or more of the stories, but certainly no more so than the handsome and talented Edward Fraim.
Whereas each of the other actors has the advantage (or challenge) of playing multiple parts, Mr. Fraim’s singular role of Bernie provides the play’s focal point. The actor’s challenge is how to take this straight husband through all the changes and challenges life offers. Mr. Fraim must journey from a frantic assignation with a hustler, to a steamy bath house encounter; he next travels from the Stonewall riots, through a sticky divorce and finally joins up with his longtime gay partner to reconcile with his estranged gay adult son. Bernie’s story could easily fuel an entire play. Between the stories of other characters audiences, however, are treated to Mr. Fraim’s subtle, charismatic voyage from married and guilt-ridden to out-and-proud gay, middle-age, now comfortable in his own skin. Mr. Fraim is an actor to watch in the future.
Other stellar performances come from Jude Hansen, the exciting young actor who dazzled audiences as Puck in Piccolo Theatre’s recent “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” A dramatic chameleon and master of dialects, Mr. Hansen easily slips in and out of a variety of roles. His best work here includes Michael, the erotic young man in a stylishly directed Internet chat room scene, as well as a more mature, loving, present-day Michael at his gay wedding, which serves to frame the play. Sam Button-Harrison winningly brings his beautiful singing voice, youthful energy and killer smile to several roles, especially Paul, a very touching gay soldier, and as young Pat, so very open and vulnerable in a Group Encounter.
David Besky is effective in all of his roles, especially as the sadly desperate Marty; but his portrayal of Archie, a drag queen ready to join the Stonewall battle is both courageous and moving. Tom Chiola (who bears a physical resemblance at times to Tommy Lee Jones) is excellent in his recurring role of Aaron, as is Patrick Rybarczyk as his partner Scoop; but Mr. Chiola is also especially notable as the father of a fallen secretly gay soldier. Ben Burke, who was seen recently in the House Theatre’s production of “Dorian,” is lithe and erotic in every scene, but his rendering of David Goldman especially stands out for its earthy drive and brutal honesty. In this same scene, handsome Nelson Rodriguez (who was so superb in PF&P’s “The Children’s Hour”), who plays a variety of roles, becomes Padriac, Burke’s hunky, Irish chauffeur ready and willing to accommodate his wealthy employer’s every wish. Jeremy Sonkin does his best work as Jude Hansen’s chat room partner, but he’s both funny and touching as Angel Eyes, a 1932 Harlem cross-dressing singer. And finally, Robert Ayres, who provides much of the production’s live musical accompaniment as the Piano Player, is sweet and earnest as the about-to-be-wed Eugene.
McNally’s play is beautifully told, well-written, thought-provoking and highly entertaining. His cast of characters and their stories form an historical panorama of the gay American experience. As the audience watches these characters grow and develop before their eyes, the sights and sounds of each bygone era will spark memories for audiences who’ve lived through these years and educate those who have only a passing recollection of AIDS, Stonewall, bath houses and chat rooms. While this play may seem to appeal to a limited population it’s really a well-produced adult production that begs to be seen by everyone.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented August 16-September 13 by Pride Films & Plays at Rivendell Theatre, 5779 N. Ridge Rd., Chicago.
Tickets are available at www.brownpapertickets.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicagocom.