The backwards gay bash
Written by Victor Bumbalo
Directed by Jeffrey Corrick
Wings Theatre Company,
Equity showcase (Feb 23-Mar 22: Thu, Fri, Sat & Mon @ , Sun @ )
Review by Adam Cooper
Victor Bumbalo’s play Questa launches right in with an interesting idea. A young gay man, Paul (Jeremiah Maestas), is the victim of a verbal gay bashing in an alley outside a bar. However, instead of also being the victim of physical assault, he is the one who attacks his abuser – and kills him. A gay bystander, Daniel (G. Alverez Reid), witnesses the entire incident, yet gives false testimony, allowing Paul to literally get away with murder. Riddled with confusion and guilt, Paul begins his quest for salvation, understanding, and forgiveness.
Paul turns initially to his pregnant sister, Susan (Krista Amigone), for solace and support, only to turn away from her as his problems and mere presence cause friction with Susan’s beau, Nicholas (Danny Wildman). He also tries channeling his feelings by ironically returning to the bar scene and engaging in sexual romps with an older yet reserved lover, Richard (Jason Alan Griffin). He even plays with returning to the fold of his Catholic faith. But, like many perturbed sinners, he is drawn to, in effect, returning to the scene of the crime and stalks the mother of his victim.
Lori (Dana Benningfield), the deceased’s mother, is indeed quite traumatized by the gay bashing in reverse. Working as a hair dresser in a salon catering to gay men, she quits as if to escape the potential implications of the causes of her son’s murder. Also part of her escape is her urgency in seeking sex and solace from morally challenged confidante Father James (John Haggerty). As Paul is fixated on her, so is Daniel fixated on him, as he acts like a Greek-style chorus and comments on the action. Inevitably, they all confront each other with ambiguous and unsettling results.
Wings Theatre Company’s production of this play is a pretty sound one. The acting all around is quite solid with particularly strong characterizations in Daniel and Richard. Jeffrey Corrick’s direction was equally robust with numerous moments of inspiration, such as when Father James challenges Paul to confront Lori with the truth and he gently ushers Paul from one scene to another. Elisha Schaefer’s set design is an intriguing and disorienting combination of a near expressionistic city skyline juxtaposed with simplistic, sometimes rustic, sometimes grungy apartment backdrops and set pieces.
What leaves most to be desired is the underdeveloped script itself. Once beyond the initial inspiration, the talky text gets lost in a muddled middle that lacks a forward thrust. The script frequently dodges the drama and backs off on the beats. Instead of moving the story forward, tensions are often repeatedly underlined; there is plenty of grief and little heightened action. While there are inspired moments, such as the mind-bending irony of Lori generously giving Paul the gift of his victim’s picture, there are many subplots, such as the sexual relationship between Lori and Father James, the baby of Paul’s sister, and Lori quitting and restarting her job, that stick out as unintegrated tangents. There is a clear intended focus on the emotional consequences of the gay bashing and clear intentions at deeper meaning, including offering a richer sense of what gay bashing could mean, but while the focus is there, the clear, captivating, pulsating, dramatically building plotline is not.
Copyright 2008 by Adam Cooper
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