Theater Review: STRAIGHT (Loud Fridge Theatre Group in San Diego)

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by Milo Shapiro on July 28, 2019

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional


1982’s groundbreaking film Making Love gave us our first cinematic look at a man torn between the woman he loves and the man who fulfills his needs. Since then, we have been many such stories in the arts about one who genuinely cares about an opposite-gender partner while feeling incomplete because of a craving for a same-sex lover. So what sets the 2016 Off-Broadway play, Straight, aside? In part, its specificity and present-day feel.

Unlike its forebears, this script has the world completely at ease with gays, now integrated as co-workers and friends. There is no guilty cruising of parks or bars, á la Al Pacino in Cruising. No crushing religious dogma, as with Priest. The focus here isn’t on whether homosexuality is inherently okay; the conflict is far more about the default expectation of heterosexual fidelity and its hindrance of sorting out feelings for those who hadn’t come to terms with their feelings before entering into straight commitment. In addition, older attendees may gain some insight into the career and life perspectives of a current twenty-something and how today’s context shapes their personalities and choices.

26-year-old Ben (John Wells III) may be closeted, but anyone with half an ear open, or Google, can figure out how to find a hook-up site these days. With no need to lurk on the seedy streets, Ben all-too-effortlessly finds himself — nervously — hosting handsome 20-year-old Chris (Bryce Gerson) on his couch. Their “date” is interrupted by a phone call from Ben’s girlfriend of five years, Emily (Ariel Siler). The tone of the date changes when Chris desires to know more about Ben’s situation. Chris — not fully out himself — bonds with Ben over beer and football, putting him at ease.

Scott Elmergreen and Drew Fornarola’s 90-minute one-act tale bounces back and forth between our peeks into Ben and Emily’s relationship and the ongoing dates between the two men. Being single, Chris begins to find himself increasingly comfortable with the likelihood that he is indeed gay while Ben’s struggle becomes the play’s main focus. Rather than making Emily a bitch worth ditching, or even someone neutral to write off, we fall in love with Emily ourselves, giving us no clear side to root for and making Ben’s turmoil more tangible.

Ben acknowledges to Chris that he’d rather stop his gay feelings, not only to avoid hurting Emily, but to fend off today’s process of coming out: Ben is frustrated believing that something is lost since coming out has changed from mere acceptance to a celebration. Paraphrasing, Ben bemoans that it dismisses all of the other things you are (a musician, a student, a teammate), getting lost when society only honors the new, just-discovered role of “Gay Chris,” and the attempt to overcome second-class citizenship.

“Ben, you really think gays are still second-class citizens?”

“Anyone who gets their own parade is a second-class citizen.”

“Really?  Veterans are second citizens?”

Among some genuine angst is witty repartee for both pairings. Ben and Emily’s conversations seem more at the surface, as if there’s a limit to how close they can get, while Ben and Chris manage to dig deeper, with no secrets to keep, allowing us to find out more of what makes Ben tick and what’s messing with the gears.

The ending is a bit abrupt. Some may find it disappointing that the potentially biggest scene is left to play out in our imaginations instead of on stage. In a talk-back, Fornarola explained that he and Elmegreen wanted the audience to leave talking about what just happened and what might happen next. Perhaps; but it doesn’t change the fact that we crave to see it. It’s like watching a cliff hanger where the writers knew that the series would not be renewed. While that’s discomforting, it’s no reason to pass on seeing an intriguing and tightly-written show, deftly executed by the three actors. Wells earns credit for keeping Ben accessible and worthy of empathy, instead of one as who makes us annoyed with him and his choices.

Kate Rose Reynolds and Andréa Agosto co-direct this west coast premiere in the tiny theater (a three-flight walk-up means it is not ADA accessible); the script has already been produced in four languages and several countries, but surprisingly hadn’t hit the west coast until now — a coup for Open Fridge’s debut production, a captivating evening that is bound to have you talking afterward — with either of your mates.

photos by Andréa Agosto and Eddie Martinez

Loud Fridge Theatre Group
Tenth Avenue Arts Center, 930 Tenth Avenue in San Diego
Thurs-Sat at 7:30; Sundays at 2
ends on Aug 4, 2019
for tickets, visit Loud Fridge

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