Lonely Crowds

Two Shows About New Yorkers in Groups Suggest They Might Be Happier Left Alone

There's a lot of show at the center of Jonathan Tolins's The Last Sunday in June, but the final effect is nearly as empty as LaChiusa's, because what's on show is only a simulacrum of substance. Tolins hates gays, or hates being gay, as the case may be, so fervently that you wonder why he doesn't find something else to write about. The titular time is Gay Pride Day, and the panoply of types who gather to watch the parade from lovers Tom and Michael's Christopher Street apartment is the same gallery that's inhabited standard-form gay plays since Boys in the Band. Tolins has gotten a lot of praise for drawing attention to this fact in his dialogue, but indicating that you know what kind of play you're writing is merely the aesthetic equivalent of a dog license. The dog hasn't changed, but other people now know what to call it.

Tolins does try to change the nature of the beast by playing up the negative side of various gay issues. The standard older man with his opera references and wisecracks suffers here from the gay world's ageism; the shirtless hunk is intelligent, well-read, and bored to tears with being hit on; the lovers, about to settle in the suburbs, turn out to be deeply divided about their whole relationship; and so on. For a topper, the ex whom one of them still cherishes drops by to announce that he's marrying—oh horror!—a woman. She duly turns up, and proves to be perfectly nice, aware that he's gay, and generally content with the arrangement. Her flawless nature, unfortunately, blows the whistle on Tolins's schema, since everybody else onstage has to be a perfect anti-paragon to make the effect work.

Panaro and Thompson in Little Fish: working their butts off
photo: Joan Marcus
Panaro and Thompson in Little Fish: working their butts off


Little Fish
By Michael John LaChiusa
Based on short stories by Deborah Eisenberg
Second Stage
307 West 43rd Street

The Last Sunday in June
By Jonathan Tolins
Rattlestick Theatre
224 Waverly Place

There are of course patterns of conformity in the gay subculture, as there are everywhere else in human culture, and particularly in America, where mass marketing makes regimentation run high. But to indict a subculture on the basis of its stereotypes, which is essentially what Last Sunday in June does, is to miss the point doubly: The stereotypes are never the reality; and they're employed in art, especially in theater, because they're fun—a convenient and entertaining shorthand for conveying other ideas. Which is exactly what Tolins does when he isn't inveighing against gay life as universally futile and dishonest. His single most annoying trick, in fact, is to write pages of very funny standard-gauge gay jokes and then have somebody turn around and blast hell out of the characters for laughing at them—a piece of hypocrisy that even Tartuffe might find a little too bald. But perhaps it's only to be expected from an author who thinks gay men's problems in America are all solved now that they're featured on national television. Authors who think that way are only going to produce works that fit Robert Patrick's immortal definition of a gay play: "It sleeps with other plays of the same sex."

Before Tolins's drama heads for the big snooze, though, Rattlestick's shaken it awake with an extremely lively production, smartly staged by Trip Cullman. The cast's uneven, but nobody's egregiously bad, and the plus side offers a very good performance by Donald Corren; a first-rate one, inventively timed and nuanced, by Arnie Burton; and a truly scary one by Mark Setlock as the aspiring bridegroom. Setlock's power is tremendous, but he pitches the role so close to insanity that I began to fear he might head uptown and mate with the nutcase DeLaria plays in Little Fish.

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