Friday, June 23, 2023

Reverend's Reviews: Love + Science plus Broadway

Coming of age as a gay teenager and young adult during the 1980's was downright terrifying. Not only was society less accepting of LGBTQ+ people, the life-threatening specter of AIDS hovered over us. I was a high school freshman in 1981, when it was first reported that gay men in the US were dying of rare cancers and infections. Initially labelled as the stigmatizing GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency), it would eventually be determined that it was primarily transmitted through sex. GRID/AIDS kept me and many other gay teens securely in the closet for as long as possible.

Love + Science, a new off-Broadway play by David J. Glass, is a potent recreation of that tumultuous time. It was inspired by Glass’ time at New York Medical College, where he took care of HIV patients as a medical student, as well as at Columbia University, where he conducted post-doctoral research on cancer in a laboratory that was focused on HIV and other emerging infectious diseases. As a native New Yorker, Glass witnessed first-hand how the HIV/AIDS epidemic radically changed the lives of gay men in New York City.

The play centers on two gay medical students, Matt and Jeff, who connect while working in a retrovirology lab in 1981. When HIV erupts, the fallout upends their relationship as their response to the rising epidemic pushes them along different paths. It also raises questions about their values as scientists and doctors, and their responsibilities as gay men. A sprawling yet intimate drama spanning the past four decades, Love + Science explores the difficulties of love during a crisis, the realities of scientific progress, and how to maintain hope amid an epic struggle.

At times, the play threatens to become more of a medical lecture than a drama. Ultimately, though, Allen's MacLeod's compassionate direction and his strong cast — not to mention the numerous, retro 80's tunes played during scene changes — make Love + Science a very effective piece of theatre. Special mention goes to attractive lead players Matt Walker (as Matt) and Jonathan Burke (as Jeff), since both of them are in virtually every scene, as well as Adrian David Greensmith, who is making his professional stage debut here in multiple roles. Greensmith brought the house down during the June 11th matinee I attended with a hilarious, improvised remark after a pesky fly invaded one of his scenes. All three of these talented young performers will be worth keeping an eye on in the future.

The production runs 105 minutes without an intermission. Performances continue through July 6th at New York City Center Stage II, located at 131 W 55th St in Manhattan. Visit the show's website for tickets and more information.

Reverend spent most of my weekends between mid-May and mid-June bingeing current Broadway shows in order to nominate and vote for our first-ever GALECA Dorian Theatre Awards, which were recently announced. Here's my brief rundown of a few musicals worth checking out now or when they tour, plus one new play I recommend giving a hard pass:

New York, New York:
An adaptation of the largely-forgotten 1977 movie directed by Martin Scorsese. It featured songs by John Kander and his late partner Fred Ebb. Some of them have been preserved in the stage version, notably the famous title tune, while Lin-Manuel Miranda worked with Kander to provide several new songs. Tony Award winner Susan Stroman directed and choreographed efficiently, although with some scene-change dance pieces that I found excessive. The book by David Thompson is negligible, but I was impressed by Colton Ryan's quirky turn in the leading man role. His performance was appropriately nominated for the Lead Actor Tony but he lost to non-binary J. Harrison Ghee (for Some Like It Hot, which I haven't yet seen). New York, New York did win a deserved Tony for Scenic Design.

This revival of Lerner & Loewe's take on the King Arthur legend, with a book re-worked/updated by Aaron Sorkin, has gotten mixed reviews but my friend Corey and I found it lovely. I was especially impressed by the un-miked singing by leads Fergie Philippe (covering as Arthur for Andrew Burnap, who was reportedly out sick on June 10th when we attended), Phillipa Soo of Hamilton fame as Guinevere, and Tony nominee Jordan Donica as Lancelot. Add a gorgeously full orchestra, vivid scenic design and costumes, and insightful direction by Bartlett Sher and you have an engrossing throwback to both classic Broadway and the idyllic title setting. Highly recommended.

& Juliet:
The biggest, most delightful surprise out of the bunch! I was afraid I would feel excluded by this youth-oriented sequel of sorts to Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet but needn't have been. Book writer David West Read (Schitt's Creek) and decades-spanning pop songwriter Max Martin have crafted a tuneful and thoroughly entertaining musical that explores what alternatives Juliet might have pursued if she didn't kill herself at the end of the original. The uber-talented young company, led by Lorna Courtney, blew me away. Meanwhile, Bway veterans Stark Sands as Shakespeare, Betsy Wolfe as his wife Anne Hathaway (not THAT Anne Hathaway, which becomes a running joke) and codpiece-sporting Paulo Szot provide strong, mature support. I loved everything about this show and was completely disappointed that it didn't win a single Tony Award. Don't let that stop you from seeing it!

Grey House:
The first production to open this new, Tony/Dorian-consideration season. This wannabe spookfest boasts great credentials: script by Levi Holloway, co-founder of the deaf youth-incorporating Neverbird Project; direction by Tony Award-winning actor-director Joe Mantello (Wicked, the original production of Take Me Out); and award-winning headliners Laurie Metcalf and Tatiana Maslany. Fantastic deaf actress Millicent Simmonds of A Quiet Place movies fame also plays a prominent role. The plot — about a haunted and/or possessed house in the woods populated by a strange group of girls and their caretaker — and fantastic set (designed by Scott Pask, also a multiple Tony Award winner) had me completely engrossed for the first 30 minutes or so. After that, the doldrums set in as not enough answers were supplied speedily enough to the numerous questions raised by the play. It also gets uneasily, convincingly gory. Save your time and money.

Reviews by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film and stage critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

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