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Entertainment Special

Terrence McNally Chronicles Gay Life

Review by Michael Kuchwara, Associated Press 

(New York City) Terrence McNally may not be breaking new ground in "Some Men," his episodic chronicle of gay life in America over the past 80 years, but he has put together an invaluable, fast-moving history lesson that manages to instruct and entertain at the same time.

The play, which opened Monday at off-Broadway's Second Stage Theatre, is a theatrical scrapbook, bits and pieces of stories that tell how gay men lived, died, survived and thrived during much of the 20th century.

If "history lesson" sounds dry as dust, don't be worried. This is lively stuff, often quite funny and buoyed by an excellent cast of nine actors and the propulsive direction of Trip Cullman.

McNally, author of such Tony Award-winning plays as "Love! Valour! Compassion!" and "Master Class," risks using stereotypes and then turns them into something emotionally compelling. Not many playwrights could take a cliche such as a drag queen singing "Over the Rainbow" in a piano bar and make it work.

But then this foul-mouthed chanteuse is portrayed by the incomparable David Greenspan, one of those fearless actors who puts a unique stamp on every character he plays - whether in or out of a dress. All the actors portray multiple roles in McNally's parade of scenes, and it takes a while to figure out that they are not arranged in chronological order.

"Some Men" opens and closes with a gay wedding, assembling all the performers on stage to comment on it. In between, the play touches on milestones in gay history, including the Stonewall riot in 1969 and the birth of the gay liberation movement to the AIDs epidemic less than two decades later.

AIDS has been dealt with more comprehensively in such plays as "The Normal Heart" and "As Is," and the scene here feels sketchy, more obligatory than personal.

McNally has more success with other individual playlets: for example, a 1922 beach rendezvous between the son of a wealthy East Hampton banker and his family's young Irish chauffeur, or a luncheon in the early 1970s between two married, closeted gay men in which one of them announces staying in the closet is the only way to survive.

The actors slip into their various roles with ease. Among the standouts is Frederick Weller who morphs from a hesitant young soldier in the age of don't ask, don't tell to an Internet chat room addict to a defiant, closeted married man to a bathhouse stud who favors the military look even when wearing only a towel.

Michael McElroy portrays a 1930s Harlem Renaissance gadfly, reminiscing about all the white folks who travel north of 72nd Street for a little exotic adventure as he sings "Ten Cents a Dance," a tune he claims was written for him.

McNally has fun tweaking the current generation of young gay men, most effectively in a scene when an older couple (delightfully played by Greenspan and Don Amendolia) are being interviewed by two ultra-serious, gender studies majors at Vassar College (Pedro Pascal and Jesse Hooker).

The kids are trying to find out what it was like "to be part of the pre-Stonewall oppressed and non-liberated generation." They didn't know life was so bad back then, the elder statesmen admit. "We just wanted to be happy," says one. "And despite everything your generation might think, we were," the other adds. "Some people would admire us."

The playwright, in these loving portraits, would seem to agree.

© 2007





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