Chicago Theatre Review
Biting Humor Laced with Sadness
His Greatness – Pride Films and Plays
A caring Assistant to a famous Playwright opens this poignant, two-act comedic drama with a heartfelt monologue that prepares the audience for what lies ahead. The exalted Southern writer may, or may not, be Tennessee Williams. But in David Zak’s incredibly absorbing, gently directed production, the identity of the Playwright isn’t that much of a mystery. It’s 1980, and as the lights come up we discover this highly esteemed older American playwright buried beneath the covers of his bed, waking from another wild night of alcohol and drugs.
He’s in a Vancouver hotel room, currently serving as Writer in Residence at the University of British Columbia. Their theatre is premiering the Playwright’s newly-revised version of his dystopian play, “The Red Devil Battery Sign,” which had a less-than-auspicious opening five years earlier in Boston. The Playwright, who is a full-time personal Assistant, loyal companion and part-time lover, is making arrangements for a busy day. This includes a telephone interview, preparations for attending the evening’s premiere and the procurement of a hunky young male escort to accompany the Playwright that evening. The first act ends as the threesome head off to the theatre.
Act II commences during the early hours of the following morning. The Playwright has taken a deep liking to his sexy, handsome male escort, a character simply called The Young Man. Unlike the Assistant, who knows his employer all too well and can anticipate his every trick and tribulation, the Young Man seems innocent, kindly, complimentary and in total awe of his date. The Playwright becomes so enamored by this charmer that he callously indicates he wishes to dismiss his long-devoted Assistant and replace him with the young stud. The Assistant has endured this sort of selfish abuse from the Playwright for many years, but this time it’s the final straw. He announces to the esteemed writer that if that’s what he wants, goodbye, good riddance and good luck.
The Assistant packs his things and departs the hotel, leaving the audience with one last monologue that sums up his relationship and the Playwright’s final years. The Young Man soon departs, leaving the writer to realize he’s incapable of managing his own finances, his engagements or anything else, for that matter. Eventually we learn that the Playwright passes away alone and the Assistant moves on, but never forgets his love for the man.
David Zak’s direction is impeccable, and so is his cast. Andrew Kain Miller is articulate, sensitive and empathetic as the handsome young Assistant. He’s served as this writer’s social secretary, valet, nursemaid and pimp for many years and, while his patience is continually taxed, the Assistant’s love for his employer is always evident. Mr. Miller absolutely owns this role, much in the same way that talented Danne W. Taylor totally inhabits the part of the Playwright. Whether or not Daniel MacIver intended for audiences to identify this fictional character as Tennessee Williams, Mr. Taylor IS this iconic American writer. From his handsome visage, to his smooth, Southern drawl and his carefully etched, courteously portrayed old-world gentility, Taylor makes this character entirely his own. In the role of the adoring and adorable young male escort, Whitman Johnson easily fulfills his duties as a sexy, twenty-something hustler out for a quick buck. It’s when the Young Man finds himself falling under the spell of the charming older writer that Johnson turns what might’ve become a stereotype into a realistic, three-dimensional character. He has his own sketchy backstory, along with some special quirks and talents, but it’s the way Johnson makes this Young Man equally likable and vulnerable that stands out.
This may be one of David Zak’s finest productions and should not be missed. It’s not a play filled with surprises. Nor is it paced with a great deal of tension; the astute theatergoer will probably guess how this story is going to end. And it’s title doesn’t simply refer only to the Playwright, but, ironically, also to the other two characters, in their own way. Laced with biting humor, it’s only when the play is finally over that the audience will recognize the sadness within all three of the men. Set in an authentic-looking hotel room designed by Manny Ortiz, and lit by Cassandra Bierman, with well-tailored costumes by Shawn Quinlan, this is a play that will resonate with audiences from all walks of life. Whether fans of Tennessee Williams, realistic, heartfelt drama or gay-themed theatre, this excellent production is an early Autumn must-see.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented October 14-November 12 by Pride Films & Plays at The Buena, Pride Arts Center, 4147 N. Broadway, Chicago.
Tickets are available in person at the box office, by calling 800-737-0984 or by going to www.pridefilmsandplays.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.