BRETT SINGER, MONIQUE VUKOVIC, KEITH MCDERMOTT Photo by Ahron Foster
What is there to say about a well-made ensemble play that accurately contrasts the pyrotechnics of adulterous infatuation and various addictions with concerns about commitment and terminal illness, layers it all with absolutely authentic-sounding dialogue which bubbles with wit, and mixes straight and gay characters together over a weekend in the Hamptons without shoving AIDS to the foreground? Bravo? The very insistent question-mark is an imperative when you’re in New York and there are seeming hundreds of playwrights clamoring to write the next “it” play, the next “Proof,” the next sure-fire, crowd-and-critic-pleasing commodity that everyone simply must see.
That’s not this play. This play is just plain good. Not earth-shattering, just plain good — and real and interesting and, for the most part (more on that later), dramaturgically sound, with a beautiful design of a summer home. And if you’re a gay man who’s ever thought about marriage, cheating on your spouse, why your friends (or you) are — STILL — wrestling with addictions or falling for “bad boys,’ or why your life still resembles Terrence McNally plays but is just a little bit different now but you can’t quite put your finger on how, then go see this. It’s a B-plus production across the board, and the playwright has a vision which includes a very modern artist-couple of a kind I’ve not seen onstage before, that is, the hetero-female and the aging homo-male who have found something extraordinary in their commitment and marriage to each other that defies ordinary morality. They are “artists” in the group assembled for the weekend, and the roles are played with nuance and real class by emotionally vibrant Monique Vukovic and the very self-possessed Keith McDermott (he of long-ago “Equus'” fame).
The actors across the board are vital, at-ease and, when required, flamboyant enough to take stage with their various dysfunctions. Kate Hodge as the hard-drinking unmarried gal has a range-y physicality and a drunken abandon that recall both Viva and Kate Hepburn. Frank Delessio manages to make a case for the young no-account that everyone disdains, and, as the constant gay-husband Drew, Brett Douglas does the remarkable, making a solid man of integrity and humor absolutely riveting and delightful. His ironic paean to the annoying bird that wakes him too early in the morning is the most piercingly perfect of the Chekhovian moments which author Blasius has scattered throughout his play. In fact, every one of the actors has a moment to shine, and they all do.
Which brings us to the playwright, and, certainly, it is because of him that this venture has the tremendous worth it does. He also, lest we forget, cast and directed this ensemble, and, from a scan of the program, one can see these artists have been coming together with consistency over time, which is no small accomplishment. (The solid Robert Gomes, Blasius himself, Douglass, McDermott, and the edge-y, funny Grant James Vargas share credits in other productions.) Besides, the effortless flow of the scenes and various character-arcs show that Blasius is a terrific director. But he plays the central character, and, on two counts, he fails therein. First, as an actor, he does not find either the charisma or the self-destructive passion that would earn him this center place in his community, and, second, as a playwright, he hasn’t let us see why we should care so much for Carl, the host. Like Michael in “Boys in the Band,” Carl is wrestling with addictions and hidden romantic frustrations and he acts out his rage on a host of innocent others. But, except for hints in a speech where Carl bemoans having missed out on romance in his teens, we don’t really see or care why his drama matters. A different, more emotionally substantial actor (a young Langella or Brian Murray?) might make the difference. Or maybe we just need one of the other characters to slap him upside the head a little earlier in the play. Anyway, there is an element missing at the center. And, moreover, though the play keeps alluding to an unidentified dead body that has washed ashore on the day of the gathering and though the playwright has given Rakel a rhapsodic speech about the insulting futility of suicide and a line later in the play that nearly wraps all the characters’ dramas up in one (“Everybody has a ghost following them around”), the thematic center is not rigorous or palpable enough to lift us out of our seats, emotionally. In sum: fun lines (“Do you think this little gold band means I’ve resigned myself to bed-death?”, “You’re as young as who you’re feeling,” etc.), authentic, human situations and characters, delicious monologues, a professional pace and flow to the scenes capturing something real and sad and fun, and vivid, unself-conscious acting come together in I COULD SAY MORE. As I said, and I mean this as a compliment, this play is just plain good.
I COULD SAY MORE, written and directed by Chuck Blasius
WITH: Carl, the host (Chuck Blasius); Drew, his husband (Brett Douglas); Jason, their son (Brandon Smalls); Phil, Drew’s brother (Grant James Vargas); Dyson, his boyfriend (Frank Delessio); Skip, a guest (Keith McDermott); Rakel, his wife (Monique Vukovic); Lila, a guest (Kate Hodge); Joe, her boyfriend (Robert Gomes)
Scenic Design by Clifton Chadick; Lighting Design by Brian Tovar; Sound Design by Roger Anderson; Costume Design by Esther Colt Coats. Produced by Other Side Productions (Peter Mercurio, Artistic Director) with Sam Rudy Media Relations for press relations (firstname.lastname@example.org
) at the Hudson Guild Theatre at 441 West 26th Street in Manhattan, Scheduled through February 1, on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 7pm (no performance Monday, January 20). Reserve online at www.othersideproductions.org
or at 212-352-3101.