Tuesday, February 16, 2010
In Alexi Kaye Campbell's thoughtful, totally riveting drama we see two stories, one set in 1958 and the other in the present day, which involve the same actors playing same-named but different characters. What joins the alternating stories is that both are about gay love affairs; the playwright contrasts the then and now of gay love in thematically rich and emotionally powerful ways. What is most exciting and provocative about the play is its assertion that gay connotes an identity rather than an activity, and its underlying plea to recognize love rather than sex as the most progressive and most liberating connection between gay men. The play's main argument might seem authoral and the play's structure pretentious in less capable hands but this playwright falls into neither trap; he puts over the ideas while fleshing out believable, absorbing characters to draw us in emotionally. Under Joe Mantello's taut direction, the performances are gripping and truthful. In the 50's-set story as a married man who self-loathes his shameful "deviation", Hugh Dancy is heartbreaking: he has one scene of the "feel one thing, say another" variety that could draw tears from a stone. Ben Whishaw is especially exceptional in the present-day story, fully inhabiting a man whose erotic attraction to shame does damage to his love relationship. The other two performers are also excellent: Andrea Riseborough gives brilliant support completing each story's triangle, alternating between gravity and levity all evening; Adam James is unfailingly spot-on in several minor roles, most notably as a current-day magazine editor calling for a feature story that superficially glorifies anonymous gay hook-ups.