Gay love, American style

The Moon in the Man

By Matthew Davis
Directed by Blake Lawrence
Expanded Arts
85 Ludlow St. (561-0475)
Equity Showcase (closes March 29)
Review by Adam Cooper

The Moon in the Man is an enjoyable new play about blossoming gay love, full of snappy dialogue, bubbly energy, and entertaining performances. In a presumably early-1980s world dominated by Top 40 tunes and not yet preoccupied with the HIV virus, the play explores the development of romance beyond sex and how a new relationship can change older ones. Playwright Matthew Davis ably balances the exploration of intertwined journeys each character takes in search of love.

In the startlingly narrow play space at Expanded Arts, Langdon Bosarge set the lightning pace of the action as Kenny, a boyish, mother-obsessed clothing store manager, who snares a new lover and pushes him toward greater commitment. This new catch, Paul (D. Jim Reynolds), is a corporate type who has great trouble reconciling his feelings for Kenny and his supposed heterosexuality. They share secrets, talents, and jealousies. Kenny wants Paul to be his full-time lover and openly homosexual. Paul wants Kenny to drop his mother dependency and mature. They fight and manipulate each other and begin a series of rubber band-like encounters of coming together and tearing apart.

Kenny confides his romantic troubles to his sharp-tongued pal Curtis (Aaron Shipp), who himself is involved in a parallel romantic relationship with an unseen lover. Their friendship becomes increasingly challenged as Kenny rashly acts on his attraction for Curtis and, later, Curtis surprisingly follows in kind with Kenny. Both passes are incomplete and temporarily threaten their relationship. Kenny and Paul's love is further tested by the unannounced appearance of Kenny's mentally challenged mother, June (Judith Boxley), after Kenny takes a hiatus from regularly calling her. In the end new, stronger relationships do evolve, yet ironically, in spite of changes, many aspects of their characters remain the same, if only in a new guise.

Davis's script is fun and engaging and in need of development. The playwright clearly knows craft, but it is too obvious and should be buried invisibly within the drama. The characters are starkly defined and each has clearly shown needs and wants. What is missing are subtlety, depth of experience, and more originality. Character idiosyncrasies and motivations are presented rather mechanically and tend not to coalesce. Each character goes through a transformation, although those changes happen rather abruptly and come off as somewhat unearned. The play's action wobbles between drama and TV melodrama, often running the risk of being derivative or hackneyed. A particular good example is the character of June, which is illogical, ill-defined, and devicey.

Blake Lawrence's direction was intelligent and very economical. Yet, the production should have been funnier and the moments should have resonated more deeply. Performances were mostly solid; Shipp's and Kenny's interactions provided many of the play's most compelling moments.

The set design was uninspired: the barebones set pieces establishing the play's three locales were more appropriate for a staged reading than a full production of this promising work. The sound design, consisting solely of '80s pop songs, established a period but did not inspire a mood. The costuming, though, was snappy, colorful, and stylish. There were no design credits.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Set: 0
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2000 Adam Cooper