Seat Filler: NYC Theater Guide for June 2009

For his inaugural monthly column, Brandon Voss battles dirty drag and shirtless stunts to find gay gems off the beaten Broadway path — but will Michael Urie ever return his tweets?



I would've slapped myself silly had I skipped the Pearl Theatre Company's intoxicating revival of Tennessee Williams's rarely produced Vieux Carré, which shuttered June 14 at Theater 80. Set in a dilapidated French Quarter boarding house, it's his most autobiographical and gayest work. In one early scene, a tubercular old lecher named Nightingale encourages our unnamed protagonist, a writer, to lay back and receive pleasure while he fantasizes about a previous fling. Then there's the Stanley Kowalskian neighbor who wouldn't dare mess around with a man — for less than $100, that is. And don't forget the downstairs gay tenant who drives the landlady batty by hosting loud gay orgies. (Where are those Golden Girls when you need 'em?) Williams began writing Vieux Carré in 1939 when he first moved to New Orleans and resided at 722 Toulouse Street, but it didn't bow on Broadway until 1977 (closing after only five performances); therefore, it's unique as an "early" and a "late" play, reflective of both an emerging young artist and a seasoned playwright nearing the end of his illustrious career.

Another prolific gay playwright, Craig Lucas, shook up the Public Theater with The Singing Forest, a dense and daring work about dark family secrets that closed on May 17. With three long acts shifting between New York in 2000 and WWII-era Europe (and most actors double-cast), it was a fascinating hot mess that explored Freudian "daddy" issues and the persecution of homosexuals during the Holocaust. Olympia Dukakis starred as Loë, an alcoholic phone-sex operator, and Q ueer As Folk' s Randy Harrison appeared as a barista linked to two horny male psychiatrists. Taking Woodstock' s Jonathan Groff (who portrayed a gay soldier in Lucas's Prayer for my Enemy ) played Loë's gay brother and a straight guy hired to impersonate Loë's wealthy gay grandson to find him an analyst. Not following? Focus on this: Those who missed Groff's bare bottom in Spring Awakening could see it (and more) here in a totally unnecessary steam room scene. Yet the moment forever etched in my brain is the one where Dukakis (a woman in her late-70s, mind you) got leisurely "raped" from behind by Harrison as a Nazi officer.

Another Gay Movie star Michael Carbonaro also stripped down (to his boxers, at least) and flexed his acting muscles in a tedious revival of Jonathan Marc Sherman's "he said, he said" drama Sophistry, which closed May 29 at the Beckett Theatre. Carbonaro famously passed on Another Gay Sequel, but the role of Jack, a maybe-gay college student who accuses his alcoholic gay philosophy professor of sexual harassment, must've seemed like a wiser career move — especially since the original 1993 off-Broadway production of Sophistry starred up-and-comers Calista Flockhart, Steve Zahn, Ethan Hawke, and Anthony Rapp. Will this revival cast yield the next Ally McBeal or whatever Zahn's best known for? Unlikely. But Carbonaro was captivating as both drugged-out seducer and terrified victim, depending on whose conflicting recollection he had to reenact in flashback. Btdubs, we never found out who was lying. And near the end, two "straight" buds kissed while swigging whiskey in a "wtf?" moment suggesting that "shit happens" when you're drunk, so maybe neither man's story was completely accurate.

But the hottest same-sex stage smooch of the entire season was seen in Mark Schultz's The Gingerbread House, a licorice-black dramedy that rattled the Rattlestick Theater through May 10. Jason Butler Harner and Sarah Paulson (a.k.a. Cherry Jones' girlfriend) starred as middle-class suburbanites Brian and Stacey, who literally sold their two kids in an attempt to regain their pre-parental bliss. Oozing musky, hairy-chested sex appeal, Will & Grace 's Bobby Cannavale played Brian's smarmy, unhappily married work colleague Marco, who "brokers the offspring-capital exchange" on the Albanian grey market before leveraging Brian's career advancement for sexual favors. (If it had promised plot twists like that, ABC never would've cancelled Paulson's and Cannavale's Cupid redux!) A drunken pass at a bar ("It's just guy stuff," Marco assured Brian as they passionately sucked face) quickly turned into a full-blown secret affair. In other words, the play's child-selling premise wasn't the only thing hard to swallow. Zing! Seriously, though, the whole scenario was so steamy I almost tweeted @michaelurie just to tell him about it.

A collaboration between the creators of Contact and the Grey Gardens songwriters, Happiness, which closed June 7, wasn't exactly a match made in heaven at Lincoln Center's Newhouse Theater. In this twee musical about life, love, and the pursuit of you-know-what, the stalled subway car in which nine quirky New Yorkers were stuck turned out to be a purgatorial holding cell. Yep, they were dead. And with the help of an otherworldly train conductor, the recently deceased had to recall the happiest memory of their lives (which materialized in a production number) so they could exit and spend eternity in that instant. The least magical "moment" was actually the clichéd token gay one: In a hospital room, an André Leon Talley-esque interior designer comforted his mismatched dying lover with a wistful "What We Did On Our Summer Vacation" serenade: "The night on Fire Island that drifted into day. The ferry boat to fairy bliss across the great South Bay." If only the makeup team had used a less-is-more approach when it came to the patient's Kaposi's Sarcoma lesions. Stand clear of the closing doors, please!

Tags: Broadway, Theater