Give Me Shelter
Wendy Weiner's sweet, slight solo show suggests friendship is more important than a space to call your own. While searching for her first Manhattan apartment, Diana, who remains unseen by the audience, encounters various oddballs, all portrayed by Weiner. There's Ned, a drummer who really believes things are going well in his 6 x 9 studio overlooking a rat-infested alley, but can't quite account for the rage he feels (Weiner gets his physical posture exactly right); Louise, a Brit who's going back to England but not because of the tyrannical Catholic woman from whom she rents a room, honest; and Katie, a grad student who's just married a stranger so she can move into NYU married housing. One potential roommate, Carolyn, describes how when she first arrived in New York, a man accosted her, demanding all her money. After she explained she didn't even have a place to live, the mugger offered his place. She stayed with him three weeks. There's good, funny material in the brief sketches Weiner makes of these people, although they're not always fully drawn. (Carolyn could be characterized more distinctly; Katie's verbal mannerisms vary wildly.) Weiner's best creation is performance artist Jewel, who lives in a $600-per-person "squat." (Um, isn't a squat free? "That's more like being homeless.") Jewel, the only recurring character besides Diana, is tough and blustery as well as vulnerable and generous. (That's why her boyfriend takes advantage of her; her toughness is why she kicks him out.) Give Me Shelter could be more finely honed, but Weiner's gentle, diverting play has many pleasures.
Love! Valour! Compassion!
I can't blame the New Conservatory Theater Center for mounting Terrence McNally's play -- though the choice does show a certain lack of imagination. McNally's the pre-eminent American gay playwright; he's lauded all across this great nation; he's even been boycotted. But L!V!C! is like a combination of On Golden Pond, Steel Magnolias, and the gay monologue from A Chorus Line -- mawkish, sentimental, and full of stereotypes rather than characters. It's lazy writing for a guaranteed audience. In NCTC's production some of the actors are very bad, but Steve Rhyne, Jeff Larson, and P.A. Cooley put forth valiant efforts. Director Ed Decker handles a few scenes well, and Rob Vogt's sound design is quite good, but it all feels so pointless. The script displays the standard NCTC insularity: Gays are victims of, or separate from, the world -- which makes for good propaganda, but not good theater. I don't enjoy repeatedly bashing NCTC (and its representatives have made it clear they wish I'd shut the hell up), but with resources smaller theater companies would kill for (great facilities and a subscriber base), it squanders its riches. Groups like the Shotgun Players, Thick Description, Bare Bones Theater, or Chameleon Theater exhibit an adventurousness despite their limited means that's much more admirable. And the Shotgun Players have proven that there are innovative gay plays out there (Swimming in the Shallows, Christmas on Mars), even though that's not an explicit part of their charter. NCTC can and should do better.