BWW Review: NANCY F****ING REAGAN Intelligent and Enjoyable
Nancy F****ing Reagan/by Daniel Hurewitz/directed by Larry Margo/Secret Rose Theatre, NoHo/through August 4
It is rare to encounter a play about the gay lifestyle that is real, intelligent, informative and simultaneously entertaining. Such is the case with award-winning playwright Daniel Hurewitz's Nancy F****ing Reagan currently onstage at The Secret Rose Theatre through August 4. If the title sounds angry, it is, but David (Kiff Scholl), who is about to celebrate his 50th birthday, is at a crossroads in his life. He can no longer tolerate the Reagans' lack of support and caring toward the AIDS epidemic and those dying from it.
The scene is Palm Springs in March, 2016, the weekend that Nancy Reagan's body lay in state. David's former partner Alec died from AIDS, and David still mourns him. When friend Jason (Greg Ivan Smith) shows up as a surprise for the birthday celebration with his new lover in tow Kenny (Colbert Alembert), David is nonplused. You see, Alec became Jason's lover after he broke with David, and then got sick. David has never stopped blaming Jason for Alec's demise. He is deeply angry at Jason, at Nancy Reagan and at his own inability to confront his failures and move on. He is a brilliant historian trapped in teaching high school history. Maggie (Debi Tinsley), at whose house the celebration is taking place, is David's best friend. She is an historian and currently Dean at a local college.She lives with her husband Richard (Mark Sande) who has become a full time writer. Maggie, like David, is also experiencing a rough spot, as one of the students at the college Allison (Safiya Quinley) has just accused a professor of racism and has deliberately interrupted Maggie's weekend by showing up unexpectedly. She insists that Maggie make the issue a top priority and turn the tables on the professor or...she will alert the media. Maggie hates to discuss her job at home and tries to throw Allison out to no avail. Feeling sympathy for her, Richard takes her in and tries to appease Maggie. The weekend becomes a crucial point for both David and Maggie. Will they stay in a rut and follow rules and regulations or take drastic steps - as Richard has suggested, "be sharks and keep swimming to stay alive"?
Hurewitz is an historian and has written several books on the history of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender). In this play he follows a believable course and puts the issues in a clear light for all to understand. Allison's attack on racism is a parallel, as she also supports the gay lifestyle. The issues go hand in hand. To find out how they get resolved, you'll have to see the play. All I will say is both David and Maggie face affecting change and do take steps in a more positive direction.
Margo in his first directorial assignment does exceedingly well in allowing the actors the freedom to expound their views and make their characters three dimensional. His pacing is just right and he keeps the action flowing on both sides of the wide stage. Maybe mics would help, but as time goes forward these actors will raise their vocal projection. Tinsley and Scholl are wondrous in capturing the meat of their dilemmas. Tinsley, especially, is so natural in everything she says and does. Sande brings humor to Richard, especially having fun at the top in pretending to lure gay attention. Quinley and Alembert are both appealing but need to become even more aggressive in their attempts to raise consciousness, particularly Quinley. Smith perhaps has the most difficult role, but he does his best to stand up for what Jason believes. Amy Kersten is professionally noncommital in the role of the TV reporter covering the Nancy Reagan weekend.
Go and see Nancy F****ing Reagan! You will laugh and maybe even cry, hopefully for the right reasons. In spite of some weaker acting choices, most are relevant ... but it is Daniel Hurewitz's writing that steals the moment from stem to stern.
For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/nancyfreagan/.
(photo credit: moses@algaimaging on Instagram)