Theater review: `Some Men’

Jun 07

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The cast of Terrence McNally’s Some Men includes (from left) Brandon Finch, P.A Cooley, George Patrick Scott, Scott Cox, Dann Howard, Christopher Morrell, Patrick Michael Dukeman, and Matthew Vierling. This scene from the New Conservatory Theatre Center production takes place in a piano bar adjacent to the Stonewall riots. Photos by Lois Tema

From assignations to spouses for life in McNally’s `Some Men’
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Funny, heartfelt and even a little corny, Terrence McNally’s Some Men traipses through gay male history the way a Queer Studies professor might present a survey course of contemporary gay drama.

Here’s a stop at Boys in the Band. Here we are at McNally’s own The Ritz. Now we’re in The Normal Heart territory. Dramatically speaking, we’ve been most of the places McNally takes us in Some Men, but he’s a writer of such compassion and warmth it’s hard to resist his characters, even if we feel like we’ve seen them hundreds of times before.

Now on stage at the New Conservatory Theatre Center under the sure hand of artistic director Ed Decker, Some Men arrives just in time for Pride month, and the production offers an appealing all-male cast, plenty of laughs and some genuinely emotional scenes.

McNally structures the play a little like a variety show with some key plot threads woven throughout the play’s 2 ½ hours. There’s comedy, drama and even some song and dance. The time frame flips back and forth (sometimes causing confusion) but begins and ends in a time resembling the present when gay marriage seems to be unquestionably legal.

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Friends are gathered at New York’s Waldorf Astoria for the wedding of Michael and Eugene. From that moment of casual equality, we head back to the late ’60s, to a room at the Waldorf, where married man Bernie (Dann Howard), who will be one of the characters we follow in multiple scenes, is having his first gay sex encounter, and it’s with a hustler named Zach (Tim Redmond), who (surprise, surprise) just happens to be a Milton-loving Columbia student.

From there we bounce into the 21st century and to the funeral of a soldier who didn’t make it out of Iraq. His high-ranking military father (P.A. Cooley) meets a wounded soldier (Matthew Vierling), who happens to be the fallen son’s lover.

The farthest back McNally goes is the 1920s as he depicts the illicit affair between moneyed East Hampton dweller (Redmond) and his Irish chauffeur (Brandon Finch). We’ll hear about this pair again later in the play when their love story has become part of East Hampton lore, and their ritzy manse has become the home of gay dads and their adopted offspring.

Kuo-Hao Lo’s plain, attractive set (lit by John Kelly) provides the blank canvas on which the drama of 80-plus years unfurls with little need for fancy scenery.

The play’s most effective scene, the one that blends humor and pathos most effectively, is set in the ’90s in an AOL chat room, where men are hunting and hiding with the help of pseudonyms and phony profiles. The most poignant connection is between a muscle hunk (Vierling) and a bookish AIDS widower (Patrick Michael Dukeman), whose brand of snarky humor is hard to convey online, even amid a plethora of LOLs.

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Dukeman makes the most of a centerpiece scene set in a piano bar adjacent to the Stonewall riots of 1969. The show queens in the bar can hardly be bothered to stop contemplating the Broadway oeuvre long enough to pay attention to the commotion outside. Dukeman arrives as a drag queen (looking slightly prettier than Ethel Merman) who just wants a drink and a little respect, both of which are in short supply at this bar. Finally, a kind patron (Scott Cox) buys the lady, known as Archie in pants and as Roxie in a dress, a drink, prompting some deep inner thoughts.

“I look in the mirror and I see an ugly woman but a fuckin’ beautiful drag queen,” Archie/Roxie says. “We owe Barbra so much.”

Dukeman wins over the tough piano bar crowd by warbling a tribute to the recently deceased Judy Garland. When he starts singing “Over the Rainbow” (Christopher Morell plays the pianist but the recorded accompaniment is really by G. Scott Lacy) it seems the scene will implode from precious sentiment, but Dukeman pulls it off with dignity and passion.

Another poignant moment comes from George Patrick Scott as “Angel Eyes,” the proprietor of an underground gay Harlem club attempting to sing “Ten Cents a Dance” but interrupting himself to tell of his fling with the song’s lyricist, Lorenz Hart, who apparently wrote the song for Mr. Eyes.

Married men with secret gay lives, over-earnest gender studies students from Vassar, a night in the late ’70s steam baths are all part of McNally’s mix here, but he only really gains dramatic traction with a stop in a hospital’s AIDS ward and later a visit to a men’s group therapy session.

Decker’s attractive cast shuffles through this history lesson with the requisite energy and charm, but the comedy often lands with more surety than the drama.

The title of the play, Some Men, is truth in advertising – this is gay history from the vantage point of some men – but I have to say I missed the presence of women. They’re referred to – wives and divas mostly – but never seen, and that makes this historical tour shallower than it needs to be. The play depicts a slice of history to be sure, but its single-sex perspective makes it feel hermetically sealed.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Terrence McNally’s Some Men continues through July 12 at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco. Tickets are $22-$34. Call 415-861-8972 or visit www.nctcsf.org for information.

 

3 comments

  1. I liked that last sentence “hermetically sealed”. My favorite scene has to be P.A. Cooley and Patrick Michael Dukeman sitting on a bench as two old queens being interviewed by the new openly gay students Brandon Finch and Tim Redmond. This was so real. Since I am at that elderly age I remember the secret gay life before Stonewall. I was fortuneate to work with studios like Warners and Paramount that had many gay workers. They did have the policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and when we were working we did not flaunt our life style. There were no rag sheets telling secrets of the actors The studio heads had a deal with the L.A. police department that if one of their actors got into a bad situation it was hushed up immediately.

    When P.A. Cooley said “we were special people” that rang a note and it was true. The gay bars in the 50’s and 60’s were mostly private clubs. Not everyone could go into these bars. It was like a speak easy where you knocked on the door and if you were known you were let into the bar. The bars were lovely and not trashy and there was away a pianist playing the piano. Dress code was suit or sport coat and tie. I knew famous lead and supporting actors of the 50’s and 60’s who would come to clubs. We would discuss films of course and after several hours of good converstion you just might be lucky for the rest of the night or maybe for a long term relationship. However in film land it was hard to have a long term relationship.

    I thought the gay bar scene where the boys were discussing Broadway musicals was a bit over the top. Not all of us who loved to talk about musicals were that silly. I am sure Terrence was using this scene as a parody and not real life of a musical comedy queen. I love the bit when the kids are talking about “Wish You Were Here”. I saw the show in New York and the only thing I can remember was a swimming pool on stage and a bunch of guys running around in swimming trucks. I remember the song “Wish You were Here” The other thing that struck me about that scene was the guys talking about the death of Judy Garland.

    I remember the year Judy died and I personally morned her since I had worked on “Star is Born” at Warners and I got to know Judy as a friend during the shooting. I remember a bunch of us were at the wonderful gay bar on Ventura Blvd called “The Valley House”. It was New Years Eve and all night long they played records of Judy. At midnight we all stopped talking and we raised a glass to our beloved Judy Garland. It was not campy believe me. It was sad.

  2. P.A. Cooley /

    It’s obvious that Mr. McNalley’s work speaks to all generations based on both of Mr. Jones and Mr. Connema’s reactions. Mr Jones was drawn to the internet scene and Mr. Connema was drawn to the elderly couple in the park reflecting on the secret gay life of yesteryear. This work truly does run the gamut of Gay history and is worthy of watching because of all the things we may have forgotten-good and bad. Just a correction note that George Patrick Scott’s character was called “Angel Eyes”not Green Eyes.

  3. Chad: I did not know you were into the internet scene. Just kidding.

    all that chat should have a special X rated line just for old queens like me. However we could not do anything just dream. 🙂

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