Playwright: Lee Blessing
At: the side project, 1439 W. Jarvis Ave.
Phone: 773-973-2150; $18-$20
Runs through: March 25
BY MARY SHEN BARNIDGE
Comparisons to Brokeback Mountain are inevitable, but while Annie Proulx opted for the soft-focus nostalgia of 19th-century romances, Lee Blessing sets his chronicle within our own experience, ending it in an uneasy, but nevertheless, satisfying compromise far more plausible to modern audiences than the artificial catharses of standard-issue Romeo-and-Romeo yarns.
Our story begins in 1948, with two teenage boys in rural Minnesota united in their 'special' sexual proclivities, but divided over what to do about them. Gil wants to leave their repressive environment behind forever, but Ray—the sole heir in a clan beset by untimely misfortune—is hesitant to abjure his responsibilities. Violent circumstances force them to part ways until 1973. Gil is now gay-and-proud with his trophy fancy-boy, but Ray has honored his obligations to continue the family name and, with them, his duty to his wife and children. After a crisis again separates the comrades, several more decades pass before they meet again to settle their debts—to one another, and to those many others figuring in their destinies.
A universe in which external obstacles to true love are granted genuine value demanding valid consideration is what distinguishes Blessing's intelligent approach to his topic. Even as we champion Gil's quest for individual freedom, we recognize the inherent selfishness of his indifference to the collateral damage he engenders. And if we sneer at Ray for his acquiescence to conventional appearances, the moral convictions that make him determined to do right by EVERYONE, even his former enemies, however great his personal sacrifice, ultimately commands our respect and sympathies.
You might think that Blessing's mosaic narration and minimal personnel—six actors playing twelve roles—would make for confusion. But though a slight lag in orientation time was evident during the early expository scenes at the preview performance I attended, so sharply delineated are the personalities invoked by the ensemble of Mike Harvey, Nick Lewis, Kipp Moorman, Paul Quaintance, John Ruhaak and Jim Schmid ( under the direction of Jarrett Dapier ) that we quickly adjust to the author's presentational devices. ( Jennifer Zielinski's costume design also helps, each character's clothes literally making the man. ) Playgoers appreciative of a gay-themed play NOT requiring them to bring spare hankies should be amply rewarded at the side project's tiny Rogers Park storefront.