BWW Review: ON THE GROUNDS OF BELONGING at Long Wharf Theatre
Racism and homophobia reign in 1950s Houston, the setting of Ricardo Pérez González's world premiere of On the Grounds of Belonging. The play begins as white drag queen Thomas Aston (Jeremiah Clapp) from whites only gay bar, The Red Room, hides from a raid at The Gold Room, a blacks only gay bar. Thomas falls head over his high heels for Russell Montgomery (Calvin Leon Smith), a quiet, erudite journalist who has a not too distant past with fellow patron Henry Stanfield (Blake Anthony Morris). But against the advice of bar manager Hugh Williams (Thomas Silcott), Thomas and Rusty begin a serious love affair. This is not a good time or place to be an interracial gay couple, but their biggest threat is Henry, who bashes Thomas in the head out of jealousy and hurt. Mooney Fitzpatrick (Craig Bockhorn), the gay and bigoted owner of the two gay bars, tells Russell that Thomas, whom he loved like a son, died of his wounds. He threatens to lynch the person who killed him. Sounds a bit like Romeo and Juliet, but neither character dies at the end. They are just separated seemingly forever. Rounding out this excellent ensemble is Tanya Starr (Tracey Conyer Lee), a torch singer at The Gold Room, who helps Henry escape. All the cast members are genuine in their roles, playing them without stereotypes. You can't help but feel their loneliness. Bockhorn is chilling as a man who, with his partner, took in a very young orphaned Thomas, yet is vindictive enough to lynch someone. Lee is a talented singer as well as actress.
Kudos also to David Mendizábal for his deft but sensitive direction, Wilson Chin's clever set design, Cha See's lighting, and Mauricio (Mowri) Escamilla's sound design. This opening season play is the first under the helm of new artistic director Jacob G. Padrón. Long Wharf Theatre patrons can look forward to more plays that tell underrepresented stories and reflect more of New Haven's diversified population.
On the Grounds of Belonging is ready for New York and this critic is ready to see the next two plays in the trilogy. Until then, see the show through November 3 at the Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven. Tickets are $35.50 - $80.50. Call 203-787-4282 or visit www.longwharf.org.