Fringe Day 1, Part 4 - Friday, August 6, 2004, 8:30pm
The Valets, or How Little It Matters
Outward Spiral Theatre Company
Mom says, "Well, that was certainly a lot of words."
I wanted to like this show more than I did, and I'm still trying to parse out why.
Outward Spiral is sort of the high-brow gay theatre in town, and I mean that as a compliment. Go to Gaydar if you want your "Naked Boys doing whatever..." shows. Outward Spiral is going to take on Hedwig and gays in the military, all styles of challenging scripts, and even new work (which is always gratifying for this working playwright to see).
The acting in this is first rate. Four very talented and capable actors, memorizing literally reams of text, which I know was rewritten completely at least four times during this process. These actors are iron men in that regard. They give it their all and there wasn't a single stumble that I could see.
The author is obviously gifted. Words are his to use as he pleases and he is constantly working variations on that juggling act. The research for this script shows - and that's just as often a good thing as a bad thing in this case.
But I was ultimately unaffected by it. I recommend it for what the script and the actors are trying to do, more than for what they ended up accomplishing. You're not likely to see a more polished Fringe show, but I really wanted to see myself and my reality as a gay man up on that stage. And I didn't.
Maybe it was one too many layers of role-playing and gamesmanship, but I never really understood who the characters were underneath it all or what they really wanted. I got the masks but not the human wearing it underneath.
Maybe it was because this subject, laudable as it is, is just too darn big for any one play, certainly a one-act, Fringe-length play. It cried out to be longer. Maybe if the characters and the subject matter had room to breathe, it would have worked better (and we can't fault this production for that - they had to work within the boundaries they were given, and given those boundaries they still chose to do a new and challenging work. They are to be commended).
The subject is the whole of (modern) gay male history, and how where we were, and the struggles we've come through, color who we as individuals and we as a community are today.
But gay male history isn't just New York. And gay male history isn't just the 20th century. And gay male history isn't just sex and drugs. Unfortunately, through the maze of words, that's pretty much all I was left with. (The movie "Stonewall" [fictional, not the documentary] traveled a lot of the same territory and gave me a broader perspective of gay history and more human characters to latch onto, by focusing on the specific, rather than the enormous canvas the whole story was playing out on.)
Also, gay men don't exist in a vacuum. My main problem with most of the gay-centric theatre out there is that it constantly seems to be implying that we are the only people who matter, that straight people are either bad or irrelevant or both, and, I'm sorry, but for the love of God can we please bury Judy Garland and let her rest? I like her voice as much as the next guy. I love Patsy Cline, too. (To this day, I still don't get the whole Barbra Streisand thing). But we are so very much more than our icons. I'd be more interested in seeing fully dimensional human beings on stage than another homage to how Judy started the riots.
There is a whole complex hidden history of real heroes out there that people need to hear about, both gay and straight audiences. If you're going to explore stereotypes, make the characters exploring them fully human, or the stereotypes is all we're left with.
It certainly prompted a lot of conversation. Any script or production that does that around these issues is a good thing.
All that said, I still recommend it. I still like it. But, damn, I wanted to love it.
(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit www.matthewaeverett.com)