Seat Filler: Best NYC Theater of 2009
10. Blanche Survives Katrina in a FEMA Trailer Named Desire
I do declare that I swooned for this clever solo comedy, which was written and performed by Mark Sam Rosenthal at off-Broadway’s Soho Playhouse after earning Audience Choice and Excellence Awards at FringeNYC 2008. The out Louisiana native portrayed a gay cleanup worker who uses an abandoned valise full of bad blond wigs to channel Blanche DuBois, Tennessee Williams’s tragic figure, reimagined as a boozy anachronism displaced by the storm to the Superdome and subsequent job placement as a Popeye’s cashier. In what may be the funniest thing to sprout out of Katrina’s mildewed aftermath, Rosenthal recovered delicious one-liners and surprising pathos from the debris.
9. Children at Play
Jordan Seavey wasn’t playing around with this very adult play at the Lower East Side’s little Living Theatre. The out playwright’s challenging, shocking, and profoundly disturbing work followed five gifted and talented students who remain friends through an eventful junior high and high school experience defined by eating disorders, molestation, experimentation, and more. Seavey, who previously tackled gay-bias crime in The Truth Will Out, adeptly explored the dark and the delightful sides of shifting adolescent sexuality with a masturbation sequence behind a backlit curtain, a revealing game of truth or dare, and a Sybilesque argument between two boyfriends played by the same actor.
In this smart, smoldering drama at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, a widowed mother had relocated her gay son, self-mutilating hipster Eli, from San Francisco to small-town Iowa. Emotionally scarred by his first relationship with a menacing closet case seen in tense flashbacks, Eli soon found himself sleeping with an affectionate stud on his new high school’s baseball team. Straight playwright Daniel Talbott’s program note said the action took place in 2006 “at the shore of legalized marriage and Obama,” but Eli's classmates still acted refreshingly indifferent to the affair. Sure, the play was total queer fantasy fulfillment, but leads Seth Numrich and MacLeod Andrews were affecting and adorable.
7. Lizzie Borden
Part drawing-room period drama and part Spring Awakening–inspired rock concert with gratuitous handheld microphones, this bloody good musical at the Living Theatre balanced a sharp camp edge with seriously killer songs. Tim Maner, Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer, and Alan Stevens Hewitt’s low-budget yet high-quality show not only assumed the notorious spinster’s ax-swinging guilt on that fateful 1892 summer day but also suggested that Alice Russell — the neighbor whom Lizzie “always received upstairs,” according to her murder trial testimony — was her lesbian lover! As Liz, Jenny Fellner led the fearless female cast of four, which included Carrie Cimma as Bridget, the butch Irish maid.
6. The Story of My Life
The story is that the first new Broadway musical of 2009 unjustly closed after only five regular performances at the Booth Theatre. Written by life partners Neil Bartram and Brian Hill, this tuneful, unapologetically sentimental two-hander starred the winning Will Chase as Thomas, a successful writer who returns home to deliver the eulogy for Alvin, his estranged friend of 30 years. Out actor Malcolm Gets played the doting, gentle Alvin, who may or may not have been romantically attracted to Thomas. “These two guys are soul mates,” Bartram told Advocate.com. Added Hill, “We’ve specifically written a piece that’s full of ambiguity, so it’s up to the audience to decide.” And I decided that, yep, Alvin’s gay.
5. The Power of Two
Though technically more of a cabaret act than a musical, this summer show at Feinstein’s at the Regency was powered by two gay, golden-throated theatrical forces: Broadway stud Cheyenne Jackson and Michael Feinstein, celebrated interpreter of the Great American Songbook. According to Jackson, the evening’s not-so-subtle queer subtext (the act, which took its title from an Indigo Girls song, featured gay anthems “The Time Has Come” and The King and I’s “We Kiss in a Shadow”) scared away some Upper East Side regulars. “I didn’t expect the show to be as political as it was,” he told Advocate.com. A studio recording, minus between-song banter, was released in November.
4. The Brother/Sister Plays
Featured in The Advocate’s 2009 “Forty Under 40” issue, Wig Out! playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney made a triumphant return with this trilogy of connected yet stand-alone plays performed in rep at the Public Theater. Part 2 included The Brothers Size and Marcus; Or the Secret of Sweet, which focused on sexual identity and featured many of the same characters in a rural Louisiana town. In Brothers a man reconnected with the pal he seduced in prison. In Marcus that same man’s son explored his own “sweet” tendencies with ghetto-fab girlfriends and a sketchy down-low thug. A skilled storyteller, McCraney added spoken-word sass by making his electric ensemble voice its own stage directions.
Following last summer’s run in Central Park, Galt MacDermot, Gerome Ragni, and James Rado’s Tony-winning 1967 “American tribal love-rock musical” opened and continues to shine at Broadway’s Al Hirschfeld Theatre. Gavin Creel, who officially came out this year, stars as Claude, the apex of a bisexual triangle with Sheila and Berger in a tribe of Vietnam-era bohemians. “I was working really hard on developing my relationship with Berger, making sure it was authentic and came from a place that wasn't just about free love and fucking,” Creel told Advocate.com about the bromance based on Ragni and Rado. “It was about a deep, unspoken connection between these two really expressive guys.”
2. The Temperamentals
Selling out its initial engagement at the 40-seat Barrow Group Studio, gay playwright Jon Marans’s engrossing, inspiring drama about Harry Hay’s 1950 founding of the Mattachine Society schooled those who thought gay activism began with the Stonewall riots. Lesson one: “Temperamental” was code for “homosexual.” Lesson two: Michael Urie, who starred as Austrian fashion designer and conflicted Mattachine cofounder Rudi Gernreich, isn’t the one-trick pony his Ugly Betty role may suggest. With out director Jonathan Silverstein and the terrific Thomas Jay Ryan as Hay, the show reopens at off-Broadway’s New World Stages on February 28, hopefully with Tom Beckett’s memorable Vincente Minnelli.
1. Next Fall
It was a tale of atheist boy meets Christian boy in this stunning, wholly satisfying first play by out actor Geoffrey Nauffts at Playwrights Horizons. Played respectively by Gossip Girl alum Patrick Heusinger and Patrick Breen, Luke was younger and hotter than his charmingly neurotic boyfriend Adam, but it was their polar-opposite beliefs that caused their biggest problems: Not out to his God-fearing parents, Luke still prayed after man sex in hopes of salvation. After an accident landed Luke in the hospital, the faith-clashing confrontation among his loved ones in the waiting room left me breathless. Thank heaven that the complete Naked Angels production is transferring to Broadway.