Chicago Theatre Review
A Gay Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder
Angry Fags – Pride Films & Plays
Gay bashing, unfortunately, has affected most of the LGBT population in some way. One would think that in this age, when a person’s differences more often are celebrated than persecuted, this kind of crime would’ve become a thing of the past. It hasn’t. Violence against all minorities seem to have reached almost epidemic proportions lately. It’s also a delicate and difficult subject to present in a play. One of the only ways this sensitive, topic can be treated theatrically is as motivation in a crime drama. Prompting a tale of revenge would be the logical, easy way out; but, to make it even more au current, Topher Payne has spun this crime with a kind of Quentin Tarantino-like gallows humor.
Thus, when a friend of Cooper and Bennett is assaulted outside a local bar in Atlanta one night, the horror and helplessness that fills both of them eventually gives way to anger and the need for revenge. The plan that develops between these two gay friends ultimately gets out of hand and goes terribly amiss. Events begin to snowball and gallows humor turns to horrific tragedy, with an ironic, twisted ending few theatergoers will see coming. To say any more would spoil the unexpected turns of Topher Payne’s fascinating and entertaining melodrama. Suffice it to say that audiences will find the conclusion surprising.
Derek van Barham’s production is deceptively simple and expertly staged inside the intimate Steppenwolf Garage black box space. Scenes flow smoothly and efficiently. The director’s drawn from his actors two-dimensional characterizations, creating the sort of people one would find in a good pulp fiction novel. G. “Max” Maxin IV is credited with the play’s scenic and media design, with Alex Thompson his videographer. This multimedia component adds a nice depth and authenticity to the production, while Kallie Noelle Rolison’s techno soundtrack provides a familiar, contemporary pulse for this piece.
Kevin Webb portrays Bennett Riggs, a droll, highly-respected, political aide to an openly gay Georgian Senator named Allison Haines (played with humor, eloquence and dignity by Kelli Walker). Mr. Webb creates a young man who’s more-or-less secure in who he is today, but unclear about the path he should pursue in the future. Currently single, Bennett finds emotional sustenance in his close friendship with Cooper Harlow, played to plotting and preening perfection by the handsome, multitalented James Nedrud.
When their mutual friend is assaulted and left for dead in an alley, Cooper decides that the police (Dennis Frymire, in a nicely understated performance as Detective Preston) aren’t doing enough to solve the crime. He sets out to find witnesses who might be able to identify the antigay bully and then seeks to avenge the young man’s attack. Add to the roster of characters Lisa Herceg, playing Kimberly Phillips, Senator Haines’ assistant, with drive, intelligence and empathy; a poised, accomplished and maternal Joan McGrath, portraying Conservative political opponent Peggy Musgrove; and Adam Lowell, the Senator’s kind, intelligent right-hand man, is played with charisma, warmth and humor by the always excellent Jude Hansen. The cast is uniformly talented and it’s a tribute to their sound work that this play and these characters truly come alive.
With a style somewhat reminiscent of 2014’s Tony Award-winning musical, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, Topher Payne’s gay crime melodrama is filled tension but laced with moments of black humor and rigged with unexpected twists and turns. The script could use a bit of tightening here and there, but as it now plays it’s an entertaining, often humorous slice of pulp fiction, produced by one of Chicago’s increasingly savvy and reliable theatre companies.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented March 7-April 25 by Pride Films & Plays at the Steppenwolf Garage Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted, Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling 312-335-1650 or by going to www.steppenwolf.org.
Additional information about this and other areaproductions may be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.