Chicago Theatre Review
Marriage in the Age of Equality
Le Switch – About Face Theatre
It wasn’t that long ago that marriage became recognized as the commitment of a lasting union between two people of any gender. Gay Rights hurtled toward this milestone of same-sex marriage, not only in the United States, but in many countries around the world, just within the 21st century. In some areas, however, where same-sex marriage is prohibited, civil unions are at least recognized; but in North and much of South America, as well as most of Western Europe, the lifelong love and resulting union of two men or two women is not only permitted, it’s supported and defended by the law.
When a person comes from a home in which marriage was merely a formality, kept together for the kids’ sake, or a joke, or if the home was broken by divorce, it’s difficult to really get past it. A man or woman may find it hard to become excited about this new opportunity to be legally joined by the one you love…anyone you love. It’s enough just to be a couple, never mind all the legal benefits derived from marriage. It’s almost as if same-sex marriage has become the final frontier of any LGBT relationship. There are some who just can’t accept it.
This is certainly how David, an intelligent, witty, good-looking professor of library science sees gay marriage. It’s fine for others, maybe, but not for him. He’s seen too many failed marriages, his parents, for one, and for all kinds of other reasons he just can’t make that commitment himself. Then Fate drives him into the arms and heart of Benoit, a handsome, charming, twenty-two-year-old employed as a florist in Montreal. David tries to resist but finds himself falling completely in love…that is until Benoit proposes. Suddenly it feels to David that all the red warning flags are flying and the fortress walls have been erected.
Add to David’s social world a close relationship with his married twin sister Sarah, his devotion to his friend Zachary (whose own relationship has grown stale) and his loving roommate Frank who, sadly, lost his partner some years ago. With lessons gained from this intimate circle of friends, both in New York City and in Canada, David learns more than he ever expected about love and the human condition.
Playwright Philip Dawkins is the author of several exceptional, well-written plays that examine various aspects of gay life. Exciting productions of “Miss Marx: or the Involuntary Effect of Living,” “The Homosexuals” and, most recently, “Charm,” which just premiered at Northlight Theatre in Skokie, have proven that Mr. Dawkins is no flash in the pan. His work is smart, unflinching and filled with interesting, three-dimensional characters, both gay and straight. This play is no exception. In fact, it might be one of the playwright’s finest works. It’s funny one moment, poignant and emotionally gripping the next. It’s absolutely a must-see, especially among gay audiences, and is being given one of the finest productions of any kind currently running in Chicago.
Stephen Brackett has cast and directed a wonderful ensemble of talented actors in this superior production. Staged upon Joe Schermoly’s stylish, inventive, multipurpose set, beautifully illuminated by Sarah Hughey and nicely costumed by David Hyman, this piece takes the hand of each playgoer and gently leads him through David’s world, and more specifically, David’s mind. We come to understand almost everything about him: what scares him, what entices him, what makes David the young man he’s become. We particularly learn why he treasures first edition books and why he can’t bring himself to open them. He’s met his match in Benoit, but David’s dearest friends are his support system and they’re always there for both young men. Brackett’s dialogue is as sharp and sparkling as his characterizations, and audiences will leave the theatre feeling as if they’ve just spent an evening with a group of new buddies.
As David, Stephen Cone is terrific. Articulate, honest, commanding in a welcoming way, we’re cheering for him at every step and hoping sincerely that he’ll come through. We can’t imagine this young man, portrayed by the skillful and comely Mr. Cone, going through the rest of his life alone. He’s matched by the exquisite Elizabeth Ledo as his sister Sarah. Ms. Ledo is a miracle in every role she undertakes and this one is no exception. Funny, nerdy and compassionate, Ms. Ledo’s character deserves her own play, but for now it’s enough that we’re treated to her as part of David’ world.
Fresh out of college and making his debut with About Face Theatre, Collin Quinn Rice is comfortable in his role as Benoit. Whether waxing poetic in French, becoming intimate with his slightly older American love interest, recommending the right floral arrangement to customers or trying to convince a man to adjust his ways and accept love, Mr. Rice is both delightful and heartbreaking. Mitchell J. Fain employs an appropriate balance of sarcasm and support as David’s longtime roommate and friend. LaShawn Banks brings his razor sharp tongue and best Beyonce attitude to his portrayal of Zachary, the funniest character in the play.
This group of real, honest friends, male and female, gay and straight, are what make Mr. Dawkins’ play appear to be a truthful slice of life. In Stephen Brackett’s capable hands their world comes alive and, for almost two hours, we can’t imagine living anywhere else.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented January 15-February 21 by About Face Theatre at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont, Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 773-975-8150 or by going to www.aboutfacetheatre.org.
Additional information about this and other fine area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com