Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Gently Down the Stream


It has been far too long since we have had a play by Martin Sherman (Bent, When She Danced) on a New York stage. Thanks to the Public Theater, the drought is over. Even better, it has Gabriel Ebert (4,000 Miles, Matilda, Preludes) as one of its two leads. As Rufus, a bipolar Brit with a penchant for older men, Ebert once again proves that he is one of the finest actors of his generation. Beau, the expat cocktail pianist who is the object of his attention, is played by Harvey Fierstein (Torch Song Trilogy, Hairspray), which, depending on your point of view, is either the best or worst thing about the play. Listening to Fierstein’s raspy voice for an extended period has always been a problem for me. In this case, the problem is compounded by the New Orleans accent by way of Brooklyn that he adopts. That's a lot to get through to appreciate the subtle acting beneath. Christopher Spears (The Harvest) is fine in the third, smaller role of Harry. His rendition of “The Man I Love” is not one you’ll soon forget, even if no match for the snippets of Mabel Mercer songs that punctuate the play. The importance of oral history to preserve the lives of marginalized people that society prefers to disregard is one of the play’s themes. Illustrating how relationships change over time is another. There are several monologues for Beau that eventually explain why he has become so mistrustful of the possibility of happiness for gay men. What he reveals about the gay history of the last 50 years contains little that will be unfamiliar to a New York audience. Sherman’s dialogue sparkles with wit, but his structure is a bit lumpy and the final scene seems pasted on. Derek McClane’s (Noises Off, I Am My Own Wife) set presents a London flat guaranteed to inspire real estate envy. The costumes by Michael Krass (Noises Off, Machinal) are apt. Director Sean Mathias (Waiting for Godot, No Man’s Land) manages to minimize the play’s structural problems. While the play doesn’t represent Sherman at his best, it still provides an entertaining and occasionally moving evening. Running time: one hour 45 minutes; no intermission.

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