The actual Red and Tan bus line that runs from the city to suburban New Jersey (and back) enters into the action of Peter Mercurio's Red and Tan Line only incidentally, but the set (designed by Josh Pugliese) features a large representation of the border line dividing New York and New Jersey. Brothers Tom (Tony Hamilton) and Rick (Christopher McFarland) both live in the city, but their approaches to life, dating, and their being gay are as different as, well, New York and New Jersey.
The play actually begins in New Jersey, where brothers Tom and Rick are taking a break from Thanksgiving dinner at the folks'. Rick doesn't want intimacy to get in the way of good (and frequent) sex, Tom wants an emotional connection, and each tries to convince the other of the validity of his lifestyle. This is fairly standard city-mouse-country-mouse stuff (even though they live just a few blocks apart), but Hamilton and McFarland were natural and appealing (and stayed so even when Hamilton -- and his character -- went over the top). In the scenes that immediately follow, both Rick and Tom have less than successful encounters -- Rick with a closeted fellow worker (Josh Casaubon), and Tom goes on a funny rampage when he takes offense at being called "refreshing" by a man who has just resolved not to do any more mercy-fucks (James McLaughlin). Casaubon and McLaughlin played all of Tom and Rick's partners, and the show would have been far less without their chameleon inventiveness. Casaubon went from clueless and resistant to dimwitted stud, and McLaughlin had a field day with paranoia and sweetness, and both made lots of stops in between.
And without much ado (thankfully), it becomes clear that each brother is trying out the other's approach. Mercurio has an obvious affection for his characters, and he keeps the proceedings nicely non-judgmental. The mishaps and mismatchings, although not very surprising in the main, do provide a comic lift, and the resolution, although not altogether believable, is true to the play's own terms, and quite sufficient. This isn't Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, after all.
The main piece of stage furniture was, in the beginning, decked out as a bus, but it became Tom's apartment, Rick's office, a bar, a coffee shop, and the Jersey stoop where, every few scenes, Tom and Rick avidly defend their experiences while kidding the others'. Songs by Patsy Cline bridged the scenes (sound design by Roger Anderson), which played into the gag that this part of Jersey is south of the city (although the Red and Tan Line isn't quite the Mason-Dixon Line). Director Chuck Blasius kept the tone light, which is just right for this slight but good-natured comic meditation. There's a funny running joke about Sam Adams beer, and a mother who sets up her sons' blind dates, but she never showed up on stage. It's enough that one of the characters is a surprisingly well-grounded pin setter at a bowling alley, that another's dialog consists solely of quotes from recent movies, and that a two-step hoe-down can involve as much approach-and-avoidance as a debutante's ball.
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Copyright 2003 David Mackler