by Raphael Badagliacca

The play opens in darkness with a voice asking: “Can I get a little light here?” When the spotlight appears, it makes perfect practical sense since the speaker is a stand-up comedian, presumably in a club. This is Norman (Jack Bowman).

Photo by Russ Rowland

But when the second circle of light appears to reveal George, expertly articulated by actor Andrew Dawson, Norman’s father, cantankerous, opinionated, confident, the very character just referenced in Norman’s monologue — now suddenly there before us so fully alive in his individuality — that second circle of light forecasts what this play is all about.

The script, the direction and the acting combine in excellent fashion to support the truth that there are more differences within any group than there are between groups. Director John Lampe deftly draws out of the actors exceedingly distinct characters, each unique in their observations and way of talking, but also each with their own foibles and prejudices.

This is a very funny play. There are laugh out loud lines as personalities, world views and motivations clash.

Towards the end of the play one character accuses another of being “insane.” The response he gets includes a word that is not a word as far as I know, but so apt in getting to the heart of the matter. That “word” is “otherizes” which is what we do to characterize a group as different from us, making what we think of as its members devoid of individuality. This is the kind of thinking the play challenges – whether the issue is race, sexual orientation, or the enemy in trenches on the other side of no man’s land. The play does this by celebrating individuality and individual choices.

Norman has returned home to New York City from the west coast because news has just reached him that his father is ill. Norman has two fathers – the older George, who weathered the AIDS crisis and bears the scars, and the younger Jack, a drag queen performer. George is doctrinaire, traditional, outspoken, wrestling with the paradox that winning liberty means that the enjoyment of that liberty by younger generations seems to include not being conscious of how much it took to bring it about. Jack (Charles Baran who could not be better in all the roles he shows us in this play) is less responsible and more self-involved than George. He liked the idea of having a child but never wanted to be a father, which only makes “Jack” sense. It’s the comment of someone who puts on wigs and attention-getting clothing, supremely aware of roles. At one point, Andy, whom we have not met yet, will tell us that all gender is “performative,” reminding us that we are at a play watching actors perform roles, and that we all play roles in our daily lives.

Meeting the unexpected Andy, Norman’s new partner, is the trigger action of the play — that, and the unexpected death of George, which happens at the very beginning.

As the play does, best shine the spotlight on each of the remaining characters, and invite you to watch them interact on the stage:

Shauna Bloom gives us the character of Phyllis, Norman’s lesbian blood-mother. In other productions, we’ve seen Shauna as mother, daughter, lover, always portrayed with an appealing edge, skillfully fulfilling the character’s role but also truthfully questioning it at the same time. This time is no different. She expresses all the anxiety of being a mother, and all the uncertainty of fulfilling the role.

As Ian, Matthew Menendez is completely convincing as Norman’s previous relationship, more acceptable to the family, activating memories, entanglements and challenges to the news he has come east to announce.

Andy as portrayed by Morgan Sullivan wins ours hearts as the least likely and most balanced character in the script. Let’s just say her appearance is surprising in every way to the family and the audience. Her honesty and directness are disarming.  Her appearance, presence and attitudes celebrate the play’s message.

There is a funeral in this play.  The most individual thing we do is die. That fact in itself should urge us to respect and celebrate the individuality of others and ourselves before the curtain falls.

by S.P. Monahan; directed by John Lampe

with Charles Baran, Shauna Bloom, Andrew Dawson, Jack Bowman, Matthew Menendez, and Morgan Sullivan.

LIGHTING DESIGN by Kirk Bookman & Steve O’Shea; WIG DESIGN by Katherine Carr; SCENIC DESIGN by Anna Driftmier; CHOREOGRAPHY by Melissa Rose Hirsch; COSTUME DESIGN by Holly Pocket McCaffrey;

Runs JUNE 7 – JUNE 28, Wednesdays (8PM) and Sundays (3PM).

Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue (between 9th and 10th Streets) New York, NY 10003 Telephone: (212) 254-1109. Tickets:  SmartTix