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Theater: My 2 Cents, Musicals for a Penny

By Jacquie Wolf
arttimesjournal May 10, 2017

I begin my critical journey with the whole 2 cents but you should be made aware that Musical Theater must achieve fantastical heights to get more than a penny from me!

Playbill & Tickets

The Public theater (on Lafayette Street in NYC) supports the burgeoning and cultivated artists of the Theater; playwrights, actors, musicians and many others have graced their stages to bring developing works and to reintroduce classics to a new generation. Perhaps most notably “Hamilton” began its meteoric rise at the Public, although “Free Shakespeare in the Park” can hardly be considered less noteworthy! In any case, you may discover a soon to be polished gem here at a modest ticket price. Enthusiastically, we joined, we became members, we were all in! We bought tickets to 4 performances over 3 months. Overly ambitious in retrospect but we began with the 3 Play Cycle, THE GABRIELS Election Year in the Life of One Family, a marathon performance of 3 plays in one afternoon/evening!

However, I begin with our most recently viewed performance, Gently Down The Stream. Written by Martin Sherman, Directed by Sean Mathias, Featuring Harvey Fierstein, Gabriel Ebert, and Christopher Sears, presently running through May 21st.

 The curtains open to a set full of books, possessions, knick-knacks, fabric and furnishings. In the scant moments before Harvey Fierstein enters the stage you are embraced with a warmth and welcome from the overstuffed set design.

I have long loved me some Harvey Fierstein, his raspy but gentle voice elicits a nurturing memory, and his activist sensibilities are right on point. He fills a stage and somehow seems meek doing it. However, his character’s N’awlins meets Brooklyn accent gets in the way of the comprehension of his gravelly voice. I did miss some dialogue because of it but still came away with a complete understanding of the story. Beauregard, call him Beau, has spent possibly the last 3 or 4 decades living in England and earning his living as a Pianist in the local bars and nightclubs. We meet him the morning after his tryst with Rufus, a much younger man, as he prepares tea so that he will be found doing something other than marveling at his luck.

Rufus is genuinely interested in Beau and Beau is reluctantly interested in Rufus. Through the developing of their relationship we discover the history that has left Beau embittered and pessimistic toward relationships and we begin to perceive the strength that has gotten him through. Beau has battled against his family’s rejection and the incidents of violence toward him and his Loves. He is a fabric of the Gay Rights movement. He persevered in a time when fighting for his life and his right to exist was an everyday occurrence. He has paddled upstream most of his life to arrive at this point and he is tired.

Rufus is a man of the present time; the history of Gay Rights is a footnote in the history books. He prefers the recollections of Beau’s Musical liaisons. The struggles and fears of the past are not his. He is a Gay man certain of his right to be, and his place, in the world.

The struggle to perceive and accept the difference of living in a society that is far more accepting and tolerant and to take your place in a world that once would have condemned you to death is a real one for Beau. Rufus will never know what it was like to live that way and he rarely gives it a second thought. Yet the two of them find love and happiness together for a while and when they part they are both a little bit healed and a bit more whole. Beau’s life has become more open and joyful and it would seem that he now gets to ride the gentler downstream waters he had paddled so fiercely against.

The introduction of Christopher Sears as Harry injects an impetus for change but is not an opportunity to make an impression other than the one and only show stopping tune and the play is all the better for it! Recorded music is used to accent the story during scene changes in a benign companionable way and perhaps allude to Beau’s past gigs as an accompanist.

Harvey brings all his warmth, humor, sass and trepidation to the role as only he can. Gabriel Ebert as Rufus is endearing and playful and manages to embody a character, oblivious to the past, that still makes strides toward his future.

For my 2 cents this show has all the necessary ingredients. A talented cast, an emotional, well developed, thoughtful story, a perfectly homey set and some crisp timely Direction.

Jacquie Wolf enjoys Off Grid living in the Hudson Valley and always has 2 cents to spare.