Leviticus 18 seems fairly forthright on the subject of homosexuality: “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.” But Stuart (Noah Weisberg)—a gay gastroenterologist and a recent convert to Orthodox Judaism—thinks he’s found a work-around. He argues that the text refers only to “anal penetration. So if I don’t do any of that, I’m OK. Blessed.”
Yet none of the characters in Jon Marans’s A Strange and Separate People—a love triangle in which two of the characters wear yarmulkes—are particularly fortunate or glorified. None of them gets what they want, and what they want alters vastly, if predictably, in the course of the 90-minute drama.
Marans’s most recent play, The Temperamentals, vivified the factual chronicle of the Mattachine Society, a precursor to contemporary gay rights organizations. In the earlier A Strange and Separate People, he creates a fictional history that never rings true. The conflict between religious faith and personal longing is a potent one, but too much of Marans’s script relies on lazy, unsubtle dialogue and slapdash characterization for that tension to feel real.
The play depends on a twist or two, but they’re telegraphed from the first scene, in which Stuart arrives at the apartment shared by Orthodox caterer Phyllis (Tricia Paoluccio) and her husband Jay (Jonathan Hammond), a therapist who specializes in reparative gay therapy. It’s soon clear that Stuart has more on his mind than ordering blintzes.
The fourth-floor space at Theatre Row is a small, low-ceilinged room, which doesn’t give director Jeff Calhoun or his actors many square feet to maneuver. Scenes meant to take place in two or three locations at once seem jumbled all together. At present, none of the roles feels fully inhabited, and the characters’ backstories appear conveniently dramatic fillips rather than aspects of fully realized lives. Much of this owes to the script, in which characters narrate their distress with lines such as “So you never really loved me” and “Maybe you don’t know me either.” Marans has his hands on some powerful material, but another rewrite or two would seem a mitzvah.