At the heart of Bob Canning’s play about senior members of the gay community, Skating on Thin Ice, is a very good idea: a play about how gay men live when a culture’s emphasis on youth, sex, and vitality has left them behind is a very good idea indeed, for it is under-explored.
Canning gives us a collection of gay seniors, led by the dashing Frank Alcott (Robert Stoeckle), who prove that 60 really is the new 50. Frank narrates us through his experience of having an affair with a younger man, a professional athlete, Guy (Andrew Towler), despite being in a committed relationship with Wes (Jack R. Marks) for 27 years. When health issues arise and Frank is rushed to the hospital, Wes is steadfast, sleeping the night at the hospital and making sure Frank is comfortable. He is devoted, even though he’s known about Frank’s various affairs over the years -- he doesn’t want to spend his last years alone.
Two best friends are found in Lou (Al Gordon) and a ridiculously over-the-top flamboyant stereotype, Anthony (Steve Pudenz), who are regulars for poker night. These two, somewhere in the second act, finally admit that they have been in love with each other for years. This little subplot, without any real buildup, stands out as an unnecessary diversion from the main story. It is handled quickly and without grace. The play might have ended once the group of four friends have each come to peace and are all back at their ritualistic card game, but the play keeps going, jamming in one pitfall after another. The result is that the last two sequences turn the play from a possible happy ending to one of harsh depression, making for an unhappy finish to the experience.
Although many scenes might have been slimmed down, a few contain valuable exchanges. The most notable is the first encounter between Frank and his younger man, Guy. Guy and his generation tune the world out in general; his language is physical and to the point. Frank and his generation took their time picking up tricks in the good old days -- there was mystery and poetry to it. It is really an age-old conversation about a younger generation not knowing how to stop and smell the roses and to appreciate life rather than speeding through it. Age 60 can feel this way, when a year slips by as if it were a day. Canning handles this theme in an interesting and entertaining way, while developing character and plot simultaneously.
For those who required it, there was some gratuitous nudity, which was particularly distracting during Frank’s opening speech. Most of the jokes were not told well, and the plot points that are meant to be shocking came as no surprise. Director Robert Crest did not lend his hand to improve pace or to even bring clarity to the play through his staging. The technical elements were basic and uninventive, though the cast served the play well by turning in durable performances.
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Copyright 2005 Michael D. Jackson