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BWW Review: GENTLY DOWN THE STREAM at New Conservatory Theatre Center

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Martin Sherman's lovely Gently Down the Stream

BWW Review: GENTLY DOWN THE STREAM at New Conservatory Theatre Center

Gently Down the Stream

Written by Martin Sherman

Directed by Arturo Catricala

New Conservatory Theatre Center

What could have been a cute, bittersweet May-December romcom is transformed into a transcendent homage to the lost art of oral history by the thoughtful script of Pulitzer Prize and two-time Tony nominee Martin Sherman and an exceptionally moving performance by Donald Currie. Gently Down the Stream intelligently speaks to a generation of gay men lucky enough to have survived the carnage of our pasts and reinforces the fact that we did survive, will always remember, but must move on. Theatre this moving comes around rarely folks, so this is a must-see.

The intergenerational romance between 62-year-old white cocktail pianist Beauregard and 28-year-old black English barrister Rufus is the staging point for an elderly man's wistful reminisces about lost loves, the devastating affects of the AIDS crisis and his transformation from a jaded pessimist filled with survivors' guilt to a man at peace with his present.

BWW Review: GENTLY DOWN THE STREAM at New Conservatory Theatre Center
Donald Currie is Beauregard

Rufus and Beauregard meet on a gay sex site and a one-night assignation turns into a long-term relationship. Both men have baggage; Rufus, delightfully played by Daniel Redmond, is bipolar and unmedicated, Beau saddled with the many ghosts of his past and believing that "all will end badly." Rufus is obsessed with the past and coaxes Beau into recording his stories, brief monologues Currie delivers to the audience.

Its these stories the impart Gently Down the Stream its importance in the lexicon of LGBTQ theatre. Playwright Sherman, whose plays Bent, and Rose dealt with the horrors of the Holocaust and antisemitism, uses history to eloquently teach us about outsiders dealing with discrimination and marginalization.

BWW Review: GENTLY DOWN THE STREAM at New Conservatory Theatre Center
Daniel Redmond (Rufus) and Donald Currie (Beau)

Beau exposes his reluctance to commit to Rufus ("daddy fixation turns to granddaddy") after his disastrous relationships with his first love Kip, then George who dies of AIDS. Each is an emotionally captivating view of the heartbreaks many men of a 'certain age' experienced from the closeted, isolation of post WWII, the heinous torching of the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans that killed thirty-two gays, to the devastation of the dying of a whole generation in the late 20th century.

Beau recalls his time accompanying singer Mabel Mercer, a gay icon whose melancholic songs confirmed their misery. Her songs, like "Lovely Little Boy" are heard during brief blackouts between scenes. He's friends with writer James Baldwin, whom he describes as 'drowning in self-contempt. His first love Kip, a hippie in San Francisco, George, a wild Greek tragedy director and his friendship with AIDS activist Larry Kramer are fascinating glimpses into the emotional elements that make Beau tick.

Currie is believable, raw, and sympathetic. I was deeply moved by his performance that echoes the sentiments of many elder gay men. Beau endures and understands the brave new world that Rufus inhabits. The great price paid for this freedom is put into perspective with Currie delivering a tour de force monologue at Rufus' wedding to his new love Harry acknowledging the ghosts and realizing he is no longer an outlaw. Its great acting combined with terrific dialogue.

Gently Down the Stream runs through January 9th, 2022. Tickets can be purchased at boxoffice@nctcsf.org or by calling 415-861-8972.

Photo credit: Lois Tema


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