By Tulis McCall
I wonder why the title of this is not “To My Girls (Wink Wink)” because the girls in this case are really the boys – the gay boys. As one character says, “We misgender each other all the time. You have to be specific.”
Alas, specificity is not a strong point in this script. Author JC Lee seems more intent on clearing out the cupboard and throwing every possible gay related item into the mix, with the result that there is little or no taste to the soup.
A predictable set up: friends sharing a weekend at an Airbnb in Palm Springs. These friends, however, are surfacing post pandemic and come ready with a list of old scores to settle and new ones to investigate. A setup like this requires a serious plot point to pull the satellites together (Agatha Christie comes to mind). Nothing like that here. Castor (Maulik Pancholy), Leo (Britton Smith), Curtis (Jay Armstrong Johnson)stay in the center of the fracas with Curtis taking the lead on slimy behavior. But nothing rises to the boiling point. Offense is taken, the perpetrator is dressed down and all is forgiven. There are no consequences.
What there is plenty of is some very snappy conversation, which is undermined by these actors talking over the laughs with the result that we miss the jokes over and over again. There is dress-up and lip syncing. There are blender drinks. There are heart to heart conversations. All of which are doused with gay cologne. On the few times when the artifice is dropped, the conversations can be compelling. They can also be didactic, leaving the impressions that we are in a Gay Life 101 seminar and should be taking notes.
The cast does its best. Pancholy has most of the “Golden Girl” lines, but Brackett’s direction leaves him standing just off center stage facing east or west, as it were over and over again. Not moving, not fidgeting, not thinking or listening – just speaking. Britton Smith brings a depth and sensitivity that rises above the material. He understands the value of being in the moment.
“To My Girls” is rock-solid sitcom speak. A gay fluff piece that did not rock my socks off. (Of course, this could be you cup of tea.) Call me crazy, but I am one of those theater folks that wants something to happen, even when it appears otherwise. I want a toe hold. Here, all I found was a glossy surface.
PS when the source of “To My Girls” is revealed, it is a thoughtful, raw, challenge. An inspiring call-out and caution, not just to the gay community, but to us all. Lee rips open his heart and lays it out on the table. With specificity. Would that this had been woven into the text of the entire play.
To My Girls, by JC Lee, directed by Stephen Brackett