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'Some Men' Stroll Down Gay Memory Lane

Some Men
by Terrence McNally

Paul Daigneault, Director; Eric Levenson, Scenic Design; Molly Trainer, Costume Design; Chris Fournier, Lighting Design; Andrew Duncan Will, Sound Design; Dawn Schall, Production Stage Manager

CAST
Diego Arciniegas, Christopher Michael Brophy, Paul Cereghino, Ben Lambert, Christopher Loftus, Will McGarrahan, Maurice E. Parent, Robert Saoud, Andrew Wehling

Performances through March 29, 2008 at SpeakEasy Stage Company
Box Office 617-933-8600 or www.BostonTheatreScene.com

For all of the strolling down gay memory lane in Some Men, it could be called The History Boys if that title was not already taken by another play. Albeit one of the more entertaining history lessons I've observed as it covers events from nine decades in two hours and fifteen minutes, that expanse is also the rub. Playwright Terrence McNally frames the series of vignettes with scenes from a gay wedding in the present, then chronicles a number of highlights from gay history including the Stonewall riots, the bathhouse scene, "don't ask, don't tell," the AIDS crisis, and internet chat. He takes us from soup to nuts without providing a whole lot of nourishment.

SpeakEasy Stage Company and Director Paul Daigneault put on a lively production with interesting technical qualities. Scenic Designer Eric Levenson starts with a white set, white piano, white chairs, and half a dozen white screens that are moved by the actors to delineate each segment. Chris Fournier meets the challenge of lighting scenes as diverse as a beach, a piano bar, and a virtual chat room. The musical selections that play over the beginning of the scenes imply the era, as do the costumes. The attire, coifs, and facial hair in "Stonewall" (1969) at the end of the first act are especially evocative.

The accomplished ensemble cast (playing multiple roles) consists of a mix of SpeakEasy veterans and rookies, but most are familiar to Boston audiences. Diego Arciniegas and Will McGarrahan are deserving of special praise for their portrayals of a closeted married man and a foul-mouthed, gruff drag queen respectively. All of the pain, fear, and uncertainty "Bernie" feels as he struggles with his decision to come out is etched on the face of Arciniegas.  In other roles, McGarrahan conveys the insecurity, the depth of loneliness, and ultimately the hollowness experienced by his character "Camus" in the "meet market" that is the chat room, and he is also convincing as one half of a long-time companion coupling with Robert Saoud. Their reminiscing on a park bench is true to life as they relate anecdotes to a couple of young gay men from Vassar who are interviewing them for a gender studies course assignment.

Maurice E. Parent is funny, if stereotypical, as a flamer seeking Madonna tickets in the chat scene, but really wows as "Angel Eyes," the sartorially splendid proprietor of a Harlem nightclub in the 20's. He regales his audience with the story of "Ten Cents a Dance" being written for him by an admirer, then sings it with great heart and more than a dash of melancholy. Andrew Wehling does double duty as piano accompanist for Parent and the show tune queens in the piano bar vignette.

There is no question that McNally knows his subject matter, both as a gay man who has lived in New York City since 1956 and one who has written many other gay-themed works, among them the Tony Award-winning Kiss of the Spider Woman (librettist) and Love! Valour!  Compassion! He creates numerous characters that present snippets of the gay lifestyle across time, always honing in on the relationships between the men who populate his scenes. Each of the eight guests at the wedding is showcased in flashbacks to tell his story and reveal how he arrived at that point in time. Naturally, the lives of some intersect through the years, while others tread a more solitary path. What is lacking is something new or unconventional in any of these accounts.

There are some poignant moments and a lot of humor in Some Men, but the level of emotional involvement required of the audience from one scene to the next is inconsistent. McNally shows the U.S. gay history timeline, but in a non-linear framework that, at times, feels disconnected and antithetical to his theme of seeking connection. It is purported to be a play about relationships, but few of those depicted feel authentic. The nudity and adult language and situations contribute texture, but are no substitute for plumbing deeper into the broad spectrum of experiences of gay men. I think I expected more than thumbing through the stereotypical gay family album.



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From This Author Nancy Grossman