Hallelujah Breakdown

By Ted LoRusso
Directed by Gregory Fletcher
Emerging Artists Theatre Company
The Mint Space
311 West 43rd St. 5th fl. (627-5792)
Equity showcase (closes Feb. 2)
Review by Jenny Sandman

To paraphrase Kermit, it’s not easy being gay. Of course that’s common knowledge, but it’s refreshing to see a new and different variety of the coming-out-of-the-closet coming-of-age story. Especially one that is closely intertwined with religious fundamentalism.

But fear not—this story doesn’t deal with religious condemnation, but with a teenage boy’s attempt to find his place in the world. Rex (David Bell) is a young kid in the '70s, once corralled into a Catholic school on a possible fast track to the priesthood but now stagnating in a Brooklyn public school. He falls desperately in love with Andy (T.J. Gambrel), a straight boy who is also a Holy Roller, and so Rex becomes a Holy Roller too. His attempt to get closer to Andy fails, however. Rex’s Catholic parents choose to ignore his obvious homosexuality, and instead condemn him for leaving the Church. Andy only wants to "heal" Rex of his affliction. Rex is being aggressively pursued by the marriage-hungry DeeDee, and soon he is left alone, abandoned, and more confused than ever, literally retreating back into the closet. Eventually Rex realizes the only person he needs to please is himself, and he is able to come to terms with his world.

It’s fortunate that LoRusso chose to write about a funnier, more easily mocked brand of Protestants, the kind that speak in tongues; the resulting play is hilarious, and avoids any sort of uncomfortable religious judgment. Indeed, in this lighthearted send-up, the characters are apt to say things like, "Christ is an action verb," and dance a really fabulous pas de deux with Jesus. LoRusso has a good grasp on both the agonies of adolescence and the agonies of sexual confusion and is able to encapsulate this within the general mayhem of the '70s. In keeping with the playful atmosphere, Gregory Fletcher’s direction was deft. The set by Scott Aronow was versatile, and the lighting (Jason Marin) and sound (Javier Berzal) were fully evocative of the colorful '70s.

Bell played the shy, inept Rex to perfection, and Gambrel was equally strong as the skittish straight love interest. Wynne Anders, Jack Garrett, Lue McWilliams, Casey Weaver, and Nicholas Wuehrmann rounded out the cast, whose ensemble acting was excellent. The only flaws, perhaps, were the vacillating pace -- in general, comedy should be performed quickly, all the way through -- and the small, cramped stage. But the cast used what little space they had to their advantage, and their frenetic choreography inadvertently added to the humor.

It was a fun way to spend an evening, made more enjoyable precisely because it avoided the weighty issues normally associated with coming out and religion, and the play poked fun at both. LoRusso may swiftly become a talent to be reckoned with, and Emerging Artists Theatre Company appears to be full of some of the best young actors Off-Off-Broadway.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Sets: 1
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2003 Jenny Sandman