Monday, March 7, 2016

Straight **

“Bisexual” or “Closeted” might have been a more accurate title for this dramedy by Scott Elmegreen and Drew Fornarola now at the Acorn Theatre. Perhaps the authors were aiming for irony by their choice. I had decided to skip it because of its insipid marketing campaign, but a positive review in the Times piqued my curiosity. Ben (a very fine Jake Epstein) is a handsome, intelligent, superficially charming, “straight-acting” 26-year-old investment banker comfortably ensconced in a generically attractive Boston apartment, which is symbolically decorated in shades of gray. We meet him drinking beer and watching football on his sofa with Chris (the promising Thomas E. Sullivan), a 20-year-old student at Boston College. They probably met through an online hookup site and this is their first encounter. After drinking lots of beer, they finally get around to canoodling, but not before being interrupted by a phone call that reveals that Ben has a girlfriend, Emily (Jenna Gavigan, good in a mostly thankless role). In a gentler age, Ben would have been called a cad. Emily is a 27-year-old overworked biology graduate student, conveniently working on a project exploring the problem of nature vs. nurture. Ben and Emily have been a couple for five years, but the commitment-phobic Ben keeps fending off Emily’s suggestions that they move on to the next level. As Ben and Chris become more involved, Emily implausibly remains blissfully ignorant even after walking in on them in their skivvies. Somewhat surprisingly, the seemingly free-spirited Chris turns out to be just as closeted as Ben. Both are reluctant to be known as gay because, even today, people regard gayness as the crux of one’s identity rather than one aspect of it. Despite all the progress of the last few decades, the play suggests that being gay is still no picnic. When Emily presses Ben to move in with her, the situation reaches a crisis. There are occasional comments that relate to the status of 20-somethings in today’s America, but the core issue of the play seems a bit dated.  Andy Sandberg’s fluid direction moves the action along briskly. The absence of a bed or even a sofa bed in Charlie Corcoran’s attractive set is puzzling; the couch gets quite a workout. Michael McDonald’s costumes suit the characters well. When the brief final scene abruptly ended with a blackout, the audience reacted with total silence. Not until the actors appeared for the curtain call did the applause begin. I’m not sure the delayed reaction was due to shock or just uncertainty that the play had ended, but it was a peculiar experience. Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission.

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