Doctoral dissertations

Fixing Frank

By Ken Hanes
Directed by Mike Wills
Currican/Playful Productions
144 W. 29th St. (736-2533)
Equity Showcase (closes Feb. 1)
Review by Scott Vogel

An hour into Fixing Frank - Ken Hanes's gift for wordplay notwithstanding - it became apparent that it is the play, and not the title character, that is in greater need of fixing. Ideas abound here, as well as material enough for a dozen dramas. The playwright, however, has not yet settled on writing one of these, the inescapable result being an evening of great potential but little dramatic punch.

The play's most salient plotline concerns Dr. Arthur Apsey (Curt May), a reactionary therapist hellbent on heterosexualizing gay men in an unnamed city. This is a man who "creeps into your brain and searches for a crack in your psyche," or so says Dr. Jonathan Baldwin (Steven Ogg), a therapist too, but gay. In an effort to expose and destroy Apsey for the right-wing Svengali he is, Jonathan enlists the aid of his boyfriend Frank (Andrew Elvis Miller), who goes undercover, posing as a patient in order to penetrate Apsey's lair.

Played rather woodenly by Mr. May, Apsey speaks more often and with greater rapidity than any therapist in history, his vocal pattern more akin to a Bible-thumping evangelist (or perhaps an infomercial host hawking motivational tapes). It doesn't help matters that the doctor's evil therapy is never precisely explained, a miscalculation that finally makes it impossible to decide whether Apsey is a Dr. Frankenstein or a harmless ignoramus.

For his part, Jonathan may be a Dr. Jekyll. At any rate, Mr. Ogg had some difficulty with the character's many contradictions, finally failing to unite them into a single characterization. Again, the script was an obstacle. "I have complete faith in your ability," Jonathan enthuses to Frank at one point. Just a few seconds later, however, things have changed. "Grow a backbone, all right?! Pretend you have a brain!" Whoa.... Easy on the cognitive dissonance, J.

Jonathan's severity is an act of desperation. For by Act Two, Frank has indeed fallen under Apsey's spell, and to such an extent that he has engaged in a heterosexual one-night stand (with a woman met in a sports bar, no less). The ensuing tug-of-war between doctors was played out nicely on Eric Renschler's sparely elegant set. The all-important couch sat dead-center, flanked by curving lengths of red and blue carpet. Michael Gottlieb's lighting was subtly sinister, and the uncredited costumes plain yet appropriate.

Still, the actors displayed a puzzling lack of commitment to this material, or, more specifically, to the emotions that drive their characters. Mr. Miller's Frank is at the center of a fascinating situation: presented with a pill that will purportedly "cure" homosexuality, he must make several important decisions, all of which will vastly affect his future. In a different play, Miller's insouciance might have been justified; here, it only served to further muddy things.

On the one hand, Currican/Playful is to be congratulated for its impressive staging of this work, and Mike Wills for his crisp direction of a talky, comma-soaked play. (Lies are described as "manipulative, malevolent, malignant falsehoods." An idiot is a "hare-brained, rationality-defying fool".) And perhaps anything less than molto allegro pacing would have made the evening deadly dull. But it seemed that something was being skipped over here, something important. Something that might one day provide the seed for a more powerful drama by Mr. Hanes.

Box Score:
Writing 1
Directing 1
Acting 1
Set 2
Costumes 1
Lighting/Sound 2

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Copyright 1997 Scott Vogel