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Torch Song Review and Pics

Michael Rosen and Michael Urie.

It’s crazy, says Michael Urie as Arnold, that “after all these years I’m still trying to justify my life.” Arnold means his life as a gay man, and though he is talking specifically to his mother (Mercedes Ruehl), the comment lands with force in Torch Song, the Off-Broadway revival of the 1982 Broadway play that launched Harvey Fierstein’s mainstream career as both playwright and performer.

It would be terrific to report that the issues Fierstein wove into his Tony winning comedy about Arnold Beckoff’s life and loves make the play seem dated 35 years later…But the search for love and acceptance and self-acceptance remains as fresh as a wound….What does feel dated, though, is a steady beat of jokes as if set to the metronome of an old-fashioned Broadway comedy…Torch Song can probably best be appreciated, even celebrated, as a piece of living gay history.

Click on any photograph by Joan Marcus to see it enlarged

Full review on DC Theatre Scene 

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And She Would Stand Like This Review: LGBTQ House of Euripides, Snap

“Greek tragedy meets Harlem ball scene. Fantastic,” RuPaul Tweeted succinctly after seeing “And She Would Stand Like This.” The Harlem-based Movement theater company’s adaptation of Euripides’ “The Trojan Women,” which has opened at A.R.T./NY, is inspired by “Paris is Burning,” the 1990 film documentary by Jennie Livingston that chronicled the elaborate culture of drag balls by LGBTQ+ people of color in the 1980s.

And so the show begins with the fierce members of the House of Hecuba bedecked in fabulous attire posing down a runway one by one to pulsating house music, flashing disco lights, and deafening whoops and applause from the audience.

After that prologue, the runway becomes a hospital waiting room and the dancers, characters in an updated tragedy. In Euripides’ play, the Greeks have conquered Troy, killed the men, and imprisoned the Trojan women, who await further atrocities. In playwright Harrison David Rivers’ adaptation, the Greek killers have been replaced by an unnamed disease.

In Euripides’ play, Talthybius is a herald informing the dethroned Queen Hecuba what the Greeks will do to her and her children – death or enslavement. In Rivers’ adaptation, Talthybius (Reggie D. White) is a doctor delivering unwanted diagnoses.

The Greek chorus are a group of LGBTQ+ people of color whom Hecuba (Julienne Brown), once queen of the ball, had taken under wing. They are given the names Baby, Miss Scott, and Grace. They tell stories of their childhood.

Each of the ten characters in “And She Would Stand Like This” correspond in more or less clever ways to the characters in “The Trojan Women,” some more of a stretch than others. Menelaus, King of Sparta, becomes Elena (Florencia Lozano), the hospital’s administrator – and a woman who knew Hecuba before she transitioned to a woman. In Euripides, Menalaus was the husband of Helen, the “face to launch a thousand ships.” Here, the high-heeled Elena is mother to Honesto (Michael-Anthony Souza) who has a second identity, unknown to his mother…as Helen.

In his adaptation, Rivers gives implicit respect to his characters — poor, queer New Yorkers of color – by placing them in a classic tragedy that for 2,500 years has been populated by gods and goddesses, kings and queens. Director David Mendizabal has assembled a cast that does justice to Rivers’ conceit; some of the performers are themselves trans, all are people of color. Stand-outs include the three members of the Greek chorus — Darby Davis, Tamara Williams and Cornelius Davidson — who werk it to Kia LeBeija’s vibrant choreography in the prologue and then tell Rivers’ stories with a simplicity that makes them all the more moving. The star of the show is Julienne “Mizz June” Brown, who persuasively carries the weight of Hecuba on her shoulders. It’s refreshing to see such characters, and such performers, on a New York stage.

The fusion of Ancient Greece with 1980s Harlem doesn’t always play well. It takes some adjustment to go from the high-energy prologue to the staid pace of the tragedy. And the mix of dictions can be jarring. One moment Hecuba proclaims: “I see the work of gods who pile tower-high the pride of those who were nothing, and dash present grandeur down.” Another moment, she says: “A bitch can’t catch a motherfucking break!”

There is too much of the high diction, which can sound like a bad translation, and at the same time too much shouting. The most striking moments are told quietly and plain. Baby (Cornelius Davidson) tells us he got his nickname from his mother, who would hold his head between her hands and say “Make sure you don’t lose this”; she would put her ears to his heart and say “Make sure you listen to it beat, because it’ll always tell you the truth.”; she would grab his penis in the tub and say “This ain’t no weapon. Your Daddy ain’t figured that out yet.”

And occasionally, the mix of the Ancient and modern, the Queens and queens, feels just right:

“Have you ever noticed how a word begins to lose all meaning when it is said over and over again?” all three members of the chorus say in unison.
Grace: “A word like grief.”

Baby: “Grief.”
Miss Scott: “Grief.”

All: “Grief.

Grief

Grief

What a funny sounding word.”

 

And She Would Stand Like This

A.R.T./NY Theatres

Written by Harrison David Rivers

Directed by David Mendizabal

Choreographed by Kia LaBeija

 

Set Designer: Paul Tate DePoo III

Lighting Designer: Brian Tovar

Costume Designer: Anitra Michelle

Sound Designer: Sinan Refik Zafar

DJ/Prologue Composer: Byrell the Great

Cast: Julienne “Mizz June” Brown as Hecuba, Cornelius Davidson as Baby, Cherrye J. Davis as Andromache, Darby Davis as Miss Scott, Florencia Lozano as Elena, Ashton Muñiz as Cassandra, Michael-Anthony Souza as Honesto/Helen, Dasan Turner as Astyanax, Reggie D. White as Talythybius, and Tamara Williams as Grace.

Running time: 80 minutes, no intermission

Tickets: $20-$25. “A minimum of 15 tickets per performance will be pay-what-you-can.”

“And She Would Stand Like This” is on stage through  August 6th, 2017

 

To T or Not To T Review: D’Lo’s Tamil Transgender Adventure

In “To T or Not To T,” a fascinating and funny autobiographical monologue, the performer known as D’Lo impersonates his father giving a speech at D’Lo’s wedding ceremony:

“Even though I was sad that D’Lo didn’t become a doctor, I told him that I wanted him to do whatever he liked. I didn’t know becoming a man was part of his plan.”

D’Lo is a transgender Tamil Sri Lankan-American artist, and he explores each of those identities in “To T or Not to T” (the T in the title referring to the taking of testosterone), the 70-minute show at Dixon Place that opens the 26th annual Hot Festival , “the world’s longest-running LGBT festival.”

Entering the stage bouncing on a trampoline, then jumping on a pogo stick, he offers a whirlwind tour of a tomboy childhood spent among the Sri Lankan immigrant community of Lancaster, California; a lesbian adolescence as an undergraduate at UCLA; and adult life as a transitioning trans man and a performer.

Along the way, backed by numerous projections, he portrays some dozen characters, none more hilariously than his Appa, his father, and offers insights about both queer and Sri Lankan immigrant culture

At one point, he describes when as a child one of his “aunties” executed “the immigrant grab, where her fingers are pressed up on the fat of my inner arm and her thumb is piercing that muscle you don’t use but hurts like a bitch when you press it.”

Much later, a butch lesbian academic says to the transitioning D’Lo: “We’re losing all you young studs and butches. You all are becoming the worst thing – men.”

To which D’Lo replies: “We’re still feminists….And isn’t feminist men what you wished existed?”

D’Lo is an appealing performer and a deft humorist, and “To T or Not To T” is full of wonderful moments. But the show would have benefited from both a director and a dramaturge. When he re-enacts a conversation with a childhood friend, D’Lo cleverly uses a prop that in one character’s hands is a half-eaten sandwich, and in the other, turned upright, is a milk carton. But it’s easy to get lost in many of the other scenes involving dialogue between multiple characters.

In D’Lo’s urge to share the fullness of his life with us, he gives short shrift to some obviously important moments, and the show winds up feeling insufficiently focused. On some level, D’Lo seems aware of this, but makes it more exasperating by referring to a previous show of his that apparently told more about the death of his sister in an airplane crash, and to a future show that will apparently focus on his courtship and marriage to Anjana,which is only briefly mentioned in the current show.

judging by the wildly enthusiastic audience response at Dixon Place, D’Lo has enough fans to accept what one might call the transitional nature of “To T or Not To T.” As D’Lo astutely observes: “There is no such things as ‘transitioned.’ Trans or not trans, we’re all transitioning, just some of our transitions include surgeries.”

 

To T or Not To T will be on stage at Dixon Place Fridays and Saturdays through July 22, 2017

 

The State of Gay Love? Daniel’s Husband and Gently Down The Stream Reviews

The gay couples at the heart of two separate plays currently running Off-Broadway have been together for years, and yet, neither are married because one partner in each of the relationships doesn’t want to be, apparently on philosophical grounds:

“Who ever said we were meant to be legal?” Harvey Fierstein as Beauregard says in “Gently Down The Stream,” a play by Martin Sherman through May 21st at the Public Theater. “ We’re supposed to be outlaws; we’re supposed to be inventing new rules, not imitating all the old conventions, not going backwards.”

“The entire concept of marriage, I find it outdated, musty and fundamentally wrong… The only thing to be gained by gay marriage is the legal stuff,” Matthew Motolongo as Mitchell says in “Daniel’s Husband,” a play by Michael McKeever, in a Primary Stages production through April 28 at the Cherry Lane. “We’ve gone to our lawyer and had all of that taken care of.”

The decision not to get married has unforeseen consequences in both new dramas. Do these plays say anything about the state of love after the nation-wide legalization in 2015 of marriage between two people of the same gender? Or do they say more about the state of gay playwriting?

Click on any photograph by James Leynse to see it enlarged.

“Daniel’s Husband” begins the way so many gay plays have in the 49 years since “Boys in the Band” first opened Off-Broadway – gay friends gathered together making witty banter. At a dinner party in a tastefully appointed home (admirably detailed by set designer Brian Prather), we get to know Mitchell, who makes a living as a gay romance novelist, an odd occupation given his cynicism; and Daniel (Ryan Spahn), his partner of seven years, an architect who clearly likes structure in his life; he does want to get married. Their guests for the evening are Barry (Lou Liberatore), Mitchell’s literary agent and best friend, and Barry’s date, Trip (Leland Wheeler), whom Barry met just a few weeks earlier, one of an endless series of short-lasting Barry boyfriends less than half his age. Trip, 23, has never seen a record album before, and he doesn’t understand Mitchell’s attitude towards marriage.

Almost an hour into the 90-minute running time, “Daniel’s Husband” turns into a different play. Since the second half is fresher and more powerful, I feel comfortable revealing what is obviously meant to be a surprise twist, but shouldn’t be. Daniel gets deathly ill, unable to speak. This winds up putting Mitchell at odds – psychologically, and legally — with Lydia, Daniel’s mother. In the first half of the play, we heard Daniel say that Lydia was a selfish mother, and we saw her during a visit drinking champagne and badmouthing Daniel’s dead father. This was preparation for her becoming the villain in the second half. This is true even though (or maybe in part because) she says: “I’m not the villain in this. There is no villain in this.” But she is made the classic straw man – a character who exists to be knocked down.

Given Mitchell’s explicit arguments against gay marriage in the first half of the play, the turn of events becomes an implicit refutation of Mitchell’s beliefs, a one-sided argument for the necessity of gay people getting married. “Daniel’s Husband” becomes an odd and simplistic cautionary tale. Only the acting under Joe Brancato’s direction saves us from utter authorial strong-arming. Rather than deriving any satisfaction at what we could take as Mitchell’s comeuppance, we are moved by Montelongo’s depiction of Mitchell’s desperate love for Daniel. Similarly, both Anna Holbrook as Lydia the selfish mother and Leland Wheeler as Trip the twink defy the potential for stereotype baked into their roles.

Just as Lydia and Mitchell wind up warring with one another, so do the two halves of the play. Both wars are undermining…and avoidable. Had McKeever begun “Daniel’s Husband” with Daniel’s illness – and shelved the first half, perhaps to be used in a future play – “Daniel’s Husband” might have been a wholly affecting drama.

Click on any photographs by Joan Marcus to see them enlarged.

Like Michael McKeever in “Daniel’s Husband,” playwright Martin Sherman in “Gently Down the Stream” seems to believe that same-sex marriage is important, and that there is some resistance to it from within the gay community that he finds regrettable. But Sherman’s approach is less an argument than a simple explanation for attitudes like Beau’s.

Beau (Harvey Fierstein) is a New Orleans-born piano accompanist who lives as an expatriate American in a London flat lined with books (the elegant set is by Derek McLane.) The play begins in 2001, when Beau, using a new-fangled online dating site, has just hooked up with Rufus (Gabriel Ebert, Tony winner for Matilda, and a veteran of Fierstein’s Casa Valentina.) Rufus is a 28-year-old eccentric, bipolar lawyer. Beau is 62. Beau doesn’t expect this “assignation” to last beyond a day. “I’m old enough to be your ancestor.” Yet it develops into a relationship that we track through some sharp-edge curves over the next 13 years.

“Gently Down the Stream” also has a second track. Rufus is interested – obsessed – with gay history. He doesn’t just ask Beau many questions about the past; he insists on videotaping Beau’s recollections. Much of “Gently Down The Stream” is taken up with these recollections, rather awkwardly inserted monologues about old lovers meeting tragic ends – “I knew it would end badly, because that was just simply the way it was with our lot” — and sad moments in gay history. It turns out that, much like Zelig or Forrest Gump, Beau has a talent for being at the right place at the right time – or, with certain tragic events, the exact wrong place. He was also friends, or at least acquainted, with such gay celebrities as Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Gore Vidal, James Baldwin and Larry Kramer, and lesser known but no less intriguing historical figures, like singer Mabel Mercer (Beau was her accompanist.) Add in the references to AIDS and the crystal meth epidemic among gay men, and the play starts to feel like a forced crash course in gay life. There is another rich layer simply in the casting of Harvey Fierstein, who since his Broadway debut as the author and star of Torch Song Trilogy in 1982, has himself become a figure in gay history.

All of Beau’s recounting of both his personal and communal past, much of it morose, offers a bracing explanation for the character’s pessimism about the future. Even the gay moments (in both senses of the word) are laced with melancholy. In one of his monologues, Beau recalls how “gay life, always secret and furtive and forbidden, blossomed” during World War II, and tells the story he heard from a veteran named Sam of a soldier from the hinterlands, temporarily stationed in New York, taking a room at the YMCA to have sex for the first time with another man, and jubilantly singing the nursery rhyme “Row, row, row your boat/gently down the stream” – which had an odd effect:

“…and suddenly from another room, he heard another soldier’s voice, joining in, a very deep baritone, and then from another room, another voice, and, and then the entire Young Men’s Christian Association, including Sam, seemed to be singing, but not just singing, singing a roundelay, everyone remembering their own childhood and the pain of it, and now suddenly this sense of release….Sam said that was the happiest moment of his life. “

But such euphoria ended abruptly, repression returned at the end of the war, and when Beau met Sam, he had become a drunken bum in Rio.

Beau’s experiences, and that of his circle, have bred in him a sense of hopelessness, leading him to self-sabotage. Convinced that the relationship will end badly, as all his others have, Beau rejects Rufus’ marriage proposal, and in effect pushes him away.

Playwright Sherman, whose best-known play, Bent, was about gay inmates of Nazi concentration camps, obviously knows where Beau’s pessimism comes from, but he evidently does not share it. He presents the optimism of a new generation, embodied not just by Rufus, but by the lover that Rufus eventually finds, Harry (a delightful Christopher Sears), a performance artist younger than Rufus. When Harry, in torn jean, black leather, pierced and tattooed full punk regalia, croons the Gershwin’s The Man I Love, there is something so hilarious, charming and touching about it that you begin to share the play’s optimism, even if Beau never does.

It’s been just 14 years since Massachusetts became the first state in the union to legalize same-sex marriage, six years since New York State, and just two since the Supreme Court legalized it in all 50 states – a decision that, many say, the new administration will try to undermine. Surely, nobody would be surprised by the recent study that concludes that married LGBT adults are happier than single ones. But if there’s been enough time to offer some sociological insight, we may have to wait for our dramatists to fashion from this new reality searing dramas with sophisticated insights.

A 24-Decade History of Popular Music Review: Taylor Mac’s Epic Queer Americana

I’ve only sat through nine hours of A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, Taylor Mac’s outrageous, outlandish, offensive, embarrassing, raunchy, insightful, inspired, clever, sometimes hilarious, sometimes moving, sometimes thrilling, once-in-a-lifetime theatrical event.I feel deprived for having to miss the other 15 hours worth of concerts. The term “concert” feels inadequate – just as calling Mac a drag act doesn’t get anywhere close to describing the artist’s extraordinary talent and breadth of theatrical ambition . The Mac voice is a flexible instrument that serves all genres, the body a canvas for fabulousness, the mind a weapon against mainstream complacency.

“A 24-Decade History of Popular Music” has been running at St. Ann’s Warehouse since September 15 in three-hour segments (actually closer to three and a half hours), each covering three decades. The shows will culminate in a continuous 24-hour performance on October 8th and 9th in which Mac will perform all the songs from 1776 to the present. There are no intermissions, for the three-hour concerts or for the 24-hour marathon. Audience members are encouraged to leave whenever they have to.

A copy of Taylor Mac's pink costume for 1956 to 1966, by Machine Dazzle, on display on a mannequin in the lobby of St. Ann's Warehouse

A copy of Taylor Mac’s pink costume for 1956 to 1966, by Machine Dazzle, on display on a mannequin in the lobby of St. Ann’s Warehouse

Taylor Mac has been putting this project together for years, with director Niegel Smith (now artistic director of The Flea) and a stellar design team that includes MacArthur “genius” fellow Mimi Lien as the set designer and the costume designer known as Machine Dazzle, whose costumes are so intricately flamboyant that a facsimile of them are on display in the St. Ann’s Warehouse lobby, as if at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I saw the work-in-progress 1900s to 1950s concerts at New York Live Arts in January, 2015, and this past weekend caught the 1956 to 1986 concert, which has proven to be the most popular.

“A 24-Decade History of Popular Music” is as much an American cultural and political history – and the weirdest fashion show this season — as it is a history of the nation’s music. It is decidedly a queer history, if there is room in that label for other marginalized groups beyond LGBT.

The first decade of the three I saw over the weekend, 1956 to 1966, was focused on the March on Washington and the civil rights movement. Mac came out dressed in a pink dress suit and pillbox hat reminiscent of Jackie Kennedy’s, with an American flag undergarment, and a shawl of Campbell soup cans – as well as sundry accessories I couldn’t quite identify. Mac first sang “Turn, Turn, Turn,” the 1950’s Peter Seeger song whose words come directly from the Biblical Book of Ecclesiastes. Then Mac ordered  all the white people in the center section “to stand and move to the suburbs” – the seats at the edge. He welcomed the people of color to take their place at the center. This was a pointed illustration of segregation, and amusing, if only because it’s not your usual concert patter. But it went too far when Mac spotted a white man still in the center, and ranted until the man was more or less chased out of his seat. This turned out to be one of the tamer examples of audience involvement, although the others were more outwardly affectionate. Theatergoers not familiar with his work should be aware that Mac’s aggressive commitment to novel audience participation seems to be a full-fledged part of the artist’s boundary-crossing aesthetic.

The songs selected from the decade were by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, The Supremes, The Staple Singers, Bob Dylan and several from Nina Simone, concluding with her “Mississippi Goddamn.” Mac introduced the song by observing that “My three favorite singers can’t really sing. Nina Simone always sung slightly above or below pitch.” But her singing was deeply effective, because she was singing her rage. I suspect rage motivates Mac’s art as well.

For the next decade, Machine Dazzle came on stage to undress Mac. Bald, wearing nothing but beige underwear and some glittery makeup, Mac resembled a cyborg from a science fiction series, or at least a warehoused mannequin.

Mac, re-dressed in a tie-dyed miniskirt, a psychedelic light show of a bra, and a hat that looked like a disco ball, launched into 1966-1976, and a focus on the Stonewall riots and what led up to them. The theme of gay oppression and liberation gave a new meaning to the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.”

Stripped once again, Mac was re-dressed as a feathery, glittery disco diva all in purple, and sang some disco anthems, as well as “the greatest make-out song ever written” – Prince’s “Purple Rain.” The subject of this decade was sex – specifically, backroom sex. “I like anonymous sex,” Mac said at one point. “I get you’ve never heard anyone say that from a stage….unless you went to one of those progressive schools.”

The decade, and the evening, ended with what Mac called “a bummer,” Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” written in 1979, a year before the band’s lead singer and lyricist, Ian Curtis, committed suicide. Mac said nothing about that, but didn’t have to.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Guys Chillin’ Review: Cautionary Tales at Drug-Fueled Gay Sex Party

5-guys-chillin-5-elliot-hadley-and-cesare-scarpone

Elliot Hadley and Cesare Scarpone

There are two ways to take “5 Guys Chillin’,” Peter Darney’s play in the Fringe Encore series that takes place among five half-naked gay characters at a drug-fueled sex party. One is as a seductive entertainment in which fit young performers are dancing and smiling and snuggling and generally seem to be having fun, at least initially. The Soho Playhouse even permits the audience to bring in drinks from the downstairs Huron Club.

The other is as something of a public service announcement by writer and director Peter Darney, who, like the Larry Kramer of his generation, is warning members of the gay community about self-destructive excess. Each member of the audience is handed a package of condoms as they enter the theater.

Darney’s evident intent is to have you react to “5 Guys Chillin’” as both an entertainment and as a powerful – and graphic — cautionary tale. The combination can feel awkward at times, and unrealistic. At first blush, it might seem odd that the characters spend much more of their time talking about past practices and experiences rather than, um, making new ones. There is a scene near the end of the play that could come off as downright ludicrous. One of the characters has just gone into a drug-induced fit and become unconscious; the others sit nearby ignoring him and launching into a series of monologues about dangerous or disappointing encounters they have had in the past.

It is important to know, however, that, according to the playwright, every word the characters utter is true, taken from interviews he conducted with people he met on Grindr and other social media apps who are involved in the chemsex subculture. (which is one of the terms helpfully defined in a glossary included in the program.) The (true) stories they tell bluntly impart a lot of information  – about the type of drugs and sexual practices involved, the rules of etiquette of the parties, the racial attitudes of the participants, the varied ways and reasons they got drawn in.

The knowledge that everything the characters say is verbatim (albeit edited) from actual people  adds an extra layer of alarm and revulsion at some of the comments: “I like having sex with guys that have Gonorrhea, ‘cause it’s the best lube in the world.”

That line is given to the character R, who is portrayed by Elliot Hadley, one of the five brave and persuasive performers – and one of the cast members who are holdovers from the production at the Edinburgh Festival in August. Another is Adi Chugh, who portrays PJ, the one newcomer to the party (which is one of the ways the playwright tries to justify all the talk of past sex party experience; the other characters are explaining themselves to the newcomer.) PJ is probably the most memorable character. He is of Pakistani descent, in an arranged marriage to a woman from a small Pakistani village, the father of one son and another on the way. “I’m a Pakistani male from a very traditional family, it’s never gonna be accepted, you know? There’s a part of me that…I will never like myself.” When he first started going to sex parties, “I remember I would always feel a little bit embarrassed, and disgusted at myself. But that was also the bit that I liked. I wanted it to match how I felt inside. A little bit disgusted at myself. A little bit ashamed.”

It is PJ that overdoses in “5 Guys Chillin’” It soon becomes clear that the other characters are ignoring his unconscious body not from some flaw in the writing, but as the playwright’s deliberate comment on one of the insidious products of the chemsex scene — indifference.

 

5 Guys Chillin’ runs through October 9, 2016 as part of the Fringe Encore Series at Soho Playhouse.

Written and directed by Peter Darney

Lighting design by Sherry Coenen, movement director Chris Cuming, sound design by Jo Walker

Cast: Rick Yale as J, Cesare Scarpone as M, Elliot Hadley as R, Richard De Lisle as B, Adi Chugh as PJ

Running time: 70 minutes with no intermission

 

Tickets: $45

Fringe Review: The Radicalization of Rolfe. A gay Nazi’s version of The Sound of Music.

After all those sequels and prequels and back stories based on “The Wizard of Oz” and “Peter Pan,“ isn’t it time somebody did the same for “The Sound of Music”?

Playwright Andrew Bergh reminds us who Rolfe is in the very first scene of “The Radicalization of Rolfe,” when the Nazi Lieutenant Zeller asks Rolfe how old he is.

“I am seventeen, going on eighteen,” he replies.

Ah yes, Rolf Gruber is the blond-haired baritone and telegram delivery boy in “The Sound of Music” who sings a love duet with Liesl, the eldest Von Trapp daughter, but turns into a Nazi.

The new play adds an e to Rolf’s name for some reason, and makes him gay. We see (discreet) post-coital scenes with Johan, who is in effect his boyfriend, though Rolfe is not happy about it.

Rolfe: I’m making changes. I’ve decided I’m going to be someone. And so obviously, this has to stop. I mean, you can’t be someone, someone of purpose, of importance, with this going on… Are you listening to me?
Johan: Barely.
Rolfe: So… We stop. Ok?
Johan: Ok. We stop. Finished.

Rolfe: You don’t believe me.
Johan: Not for a minute.

When Rolfe tells Lieutenant Zeller his age, it gets a big laugh. But there are only a handful of laughs in the play after that…intentionally so. “The Radicalization of Rolfe” is not a campy spoof. It is also not a musical, although Rolfe does sing a couple of songs a cappella. The plot, demonstrating that the Nazis were evil and corrupting, is not exactly full of original insights, nor self-evidently rooted in extensive research.

I suppose these are good reasons why Bergh’s play shouldn’t work. But it did for me, in part because it’s a fascinating exercise to re-view “The Sound of Music” from the oblique perspective of some of its minor characters. (While the main characters of “The Sound of Music” never appear, the “Rolfe “characters recount what’s happening to the Captain and Maria and the children in nearly every scene.) Director Abigail Zealey Bess takes the material seriously and ratchets up the tension, aided by the fine acting of its five-member cast – Jay Patterson as the outwardly obsequious and inwardly scheming Von Trapp butler Franz who is spying on the von Trapps for the Nazis; Polly Adams as the intelligent and well-meaning Von Trapp housekeeper Frau Schmidt; Alex J. Gould as her nephew and Rolfe’s irresistible love interest Johan; Dominic Comperatore as Lieutenant Zeller, a no-nonsense Nazi who is neither a clownish Klink (from Hogan’s Heroes) nor a psychotically sadistic Standartenführer Hans Landa (from Inglourious Basterds.) Zeller is of course evil, but in a coolly practical way. “The country needs young men like you,” he tells Rolfe, recruiting him to seduce Liesl and spy on her father. Above all, Logan Sutherland makes for a believable Rolfe, who starts off easily manipulated because of his naïveté and ambition, then hardens while in his  youthful arrogance he believes that he has everything under control — until he learns, brutally, that he can control nothing. For all the inevitability of the ending, it is no less chilling.

 

The Radicalization of Rolfe

Players Theater

 

Remaining show times

FRI 19 @ 7  ||  SUN 21 @ NOON  || WED 24 @ 4:30