Thursday, June 16, 2022

Theater Reviews: Gay Pride Month on Stage Weaves Representation Into the Fabrics of “Snow in Midsummer,” “Fat Ham” and “…What the End Will Be”

Snow in Midsummer (c) Julieta Cervantes

Theater Review: Snow in Midsummer 
Classic Stage Company 

Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig’s play focuses on a miscarriage of justice as a woman, Dou Yi (Dorcas Leung), is executed for a murder she swears she didn’t commit. Three years after her death, the Chinese city of New Harmony has been suffering a debilitating drought, but that hasn’t stopped entrepreneur Tianyun (Teresa Avia Lim) from investing in the city. But like all ghost stories, it’s her young, adopted daughter Fei-Fei (a wonderful Fin Moulding) that senses the spirit of Dou Yi as the truth starts to reveal itself. Handsome Zhang (John Yi), the wealthy son of the man Dou Yi is said to have killed, is hoping to leave the city with his boyfriend Rocket (Tommy Bo), leaving behind his spiritual mother, the bar owner, Mother Cai (Wai Ching Ho). And that isn’t half the plot as I haven’t even mentioned the titular event that figures so prominently in the story. The play’s based on a 13th century work by Guan Hanqing called “The Injustice to Dou Yi That Moved Heaven and Earth.” Cowhig has done a masterful job of transferring the story to modern times and director Zi Alikhan keeps the complicated story clear to the audience, while still giving us striking theatrical moments throughout, including the set piece of the evening: Dou Yi’s execution scene. There are certainly a lot of melodrama and soap opera elements, and your enjoyment of the play will depend on your tolerance for this kind of dramatic treatment. I found it fascinating, despite its excessiveness. The talented, excellent cast is a true ensemble. 

Fat Ham (c) Joan Marcus

Theater Review: Fat Ham 
The Public Theater 

The last four plays to win the Pulitzer Prize have all been won by black playwrights and three have main protagonists who are gay. The latest winner, James Ijames “Fat Ham” follows young, gay college student Juicy (the impressive Marcel Spears), during the wedding reception of his mother Tedra (a powerful Nikki Crawford) to his uncle Rev (Billy Eugene Jones), not soon after the murder of his butcher father Pap (also Jones) in jail. If that plot feels familiar, you might have seen it in the recent film, “The Northman,” which is based on a Scandinavian legend of Ameth, also the source of a play rechristened by Shakespeare as “Hamlet.” And while I totally appreciate this connection, it turns out to be the weakest element of the show. For the first half hour, I kept waiting for some new interpretation of “Hamlet” as transposed to a black, North Carolina setting, and found the play lacking as it tries to find its footing. But then, somewhere around the time the reception actually happens, Ijames seems to relax into the play instead of being boxed in by the Hamlet plot. The Polonius family is represented by Auntie Rabby (a raucous Benja Kay Thomas) and her Ophelia-like daughter Opal (Adrianna Mitchell) and soldier son Larry (Calvin Leon Smith), whom Juicy has a crush on. Thanks to director Shaheem Ali, the play goes gloriously off-the-rails, and I was there beat for beat, especially as it heads towards its deliriously over-the-top finale. After a shaky beginning, the play, which became a popular streaming production during the pandemic, is the most satisfying show in New York right now. 

...What the End Will Be (c) Joan Marcus

Theater Review: …What the End Will Be 
Roundabout Theatre Company 

It may be a hard sell to market Mansa Ra’s play for what it really is, even though it is right there in the title: the euthanasia request of a parent going through a losing battle with cancer to his family. What makes it more enjoyable than, say, “’Night, Mother” or “Whose Life is it Anyway?” while still retaining its powerful message, is the unique family at the center of the play. It’s still a bit of a stretch to buy that these three generations of men are all gay, including patriarch Bartholomew Kennedy (Keith Randolph Smith), who is moving in with his son Maxwell (Emerson Brooks) and his white husband Charles (Randy Harrison) as well as his high school-aged grandson Tony (Gerald Caesar), who may have more going on than friendship with the gender-fabulous Antoine (Ryan Jamaal Swain, as memorable here as they are in the TV show “Pose”). But Ra makes it mostly work, despite the fact that the character of Max is a host of contradictions which never feels believable: being both married to a man and in the closet as well as intolerant to the next queer generation. It’s all a bit hard to swallow for the sake of conflict. The play is expertly directed by Margot Bordelon, but it’s never as emotionally satisfying as I would have hoped from such a dramatic premise. But, to see such a diverse cast on stage (Tiffany Villarin rounds out the cast as Bart’s nurse) in this unique way makes the play at least worth experiencing.

If you want to comment on these reviews, please do so on my Instagram account.  All reviews have their own post.  And please follow to know when new reviews are released.