Kevin Brofsky's Claymont is not a gay play. Sure, there are gay undertones in it, but isn't it the mark of a good playwright when a gay play can feel so universal? Currently on display at the Intar Hispanic Arts Theatre in Manhattan, this period piece takes a unique look at the year 1969, defining a generation as they dreamed, hoped, and dealt with the Vietnam War.
It's the summer of 1969 and Neil (Jason Hare) lives with his mother (Glory Gallo) and grandmother (Jaqueline Barsh) in the small town of Claymont. To make ends meet, his mother decides to take in a tenant in the basement by the name of Dallas (Stephen Sherman). Neil falls quietly but passionately in love and is inspired by the rebellious Dallas to follow his own dreams of becoming an artist. When Neil learns that Dallas has been drafted to go to Vietnam, he takes his own steps toward manhood by deciding to go to California against his mother's wishes.
Gallo gave a multidimensional performance as the chief authority in the household. She played watchful mother to Hare and stern daughter to Barsh. When confronting her son's art teacher at school she put her calm claws in action and devoured her enemy (the teacher was out of line) without moving a muscle. Entertainingly enough, she even had a few moments of mild lust when she walked in on Sherman while he was shirtless. Gallo was a well of depth and soul in a role that could have been very stale played by any other actress.
Ellen Reilly intelligently costumed the show by putting Gallo in an outfit that was right out of Florence Henderson's closet. Subtle and sexy, the time of the piece was always in mind.
Hare was born to play the role of the hero with his youthful looks and all-American demeanor. He previously played a small role in EAT's largely forgettable production of The Novelist; audiences seemed pleased to see the actor featured in a large role that showcased his talents to the nines.
Barsh performed her role with the appropriate lackadaisical quality that left room for many comedic moments. Sitting in front of the television set watching Hollywood Squares with her eyes closed, she epitomized the aging grandmother with little to do but complain.
Wynne Anders played Dallas's mother, Dolores. This actress played her moments like a cello and brought such life to her scenes it was unfortunate that she ever had to leave the stage. Anders played a similar role in EAT's Hallelujah Breakdown and also stole the show.
The primary male focus of the play was Sherman, who spent most of the play half-dressed. The actor was reminiscent of a 1940s film star with his dashing good looks and quiet hunger.
Aimee Howard played Sharon, the girlfriend of Dallas who is determined to marry him at any cost. She used her charm to convince Dolores that making the college dropout her husband would keep him out of the Vietnam War if she used her father's connections in the corporate world. Certainly the villain in the show, Howard played with raw need and humanized her character in a way that made it impossible to truly dislike her.
On a technical note, Howard experienced an accidental fall as she was meant to storm out of the house after a heated argument with Sherman. Still in view of the audience, she ceremoniously rose from the floor, dusted herself off and continued with her exit with a dramatic pride that only a real actress could demonstrate.
However, Jason O'Connell, who played Hare's art teacher, Mr. Ramsey, provided the most impressive performance of the evening. Upon paying a visit to the house to inform Gallo that her son's art project had not been chosen to compete in the school competition, he encounters all the members of Hare's family including Sherman. Delivering his lines as if he were about to be executed at dawn, he created a tension that kept the audience at the edge of their seat.
Derek Jamison's direction was notable (primarily in O'Connell's scene), but Carter Inskeep's set design was uninspired. It consisted of a triangular image with a kitchen and a living room downstage, with Dallas's room upstage center. Although it worked, it seemed very bland.
Eric Chase's lighting design was minimal but effective.
The multitalented Desmond Dutcher collected a series of wonderful sound clips and music that brought the story to 1969, particularly with the voices of the era's stars on television.
Brofsky ends his story with Neil helping Dallas escape through a window in his room. It was not clear what happens to any of the characters in the end of the play, in a way that left the audience with the realization that destiny has yet to be written. Sort of like it was in 1969.
Lighting: 1/Sound: 2
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Copyright 2004 Jade Esteban Estrada