Many plays with gay themes tend to center their plots on gay men coming out of the closet. In Summerland, however, the coming-out theme offers little such focus. Despite some positive aspects of the production, Brain Thorstensons play seems more caught up in its Sam Shepard-esque dialogue than its own dramatic engine. Indeed, the main mystery of Summerland is not how Bud will come out to his mother Doreen, but rather to which character this play actually belongs.
Bud (Ivan Quintanilla) is a wandering and lost soul who meets up with two strangers: a dangerous cowboy named Tom (John Coleman) and the sensitive Skye (Eric Conley). Whereas Tom is all about his guns and firing them, Skye is more concerned with healing and beauty. Bud eventually chooses the sensitivity of Skye over the brutality of Tom, with tragic results.
Unfortunately, the dramaturgy of Summerland was clumsy and obvious. For example, when Doreen (Barbara Ayres Bruno) returns Toms guns to him, Tom is so unthreatening that he never seems as if he will turn around and use them. Furthermore, it's hard to understand which problem Bud is actually trying to work out - he doesn't seem remotely interested in Tom, therefore his choice of Skye appears too easy. More confusingly, it often appears as if the play belongs to Doreen, since she is visited by the ghost of her grandmother Aura (Dolores Kenan), though it's never clear which problem she is trying to solve or why she is being haunted. This lack of dramatic questions caused the production to become meandering and unfocused.
The acting had some choice moments with a few truly wonderful actors. Bruno's Doreen was stellar, at first unsympathetic but moving to true tenderness for her son. Likewise, Kenan's Aura was winning and appeared to be ripe for any Sam Shepard the stage has to offer her. Mitch Poulos's Sam, Doreen's love interest, was good in a very underdeveloped character.
Alas, Quintanilla, Coleman and Conley all had moments of quality
but were defeated by inert actions that seemed to wander; it would
have been nice to see what these three boys could do with stronger
writing. Director Sam Sommer did the most he could with
a script that goes all over the map, while his set and Dan
Castanedas lighting were terrific.
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Copyright 2001 Andrés J. Wrath