He is conservative, in his late twenties, and is speaking in New York City in 1985. There is also free-spirited, effeminate, Bob, in his thirties, speaking in 1979 in San Francisco. The third is Danny, a hyper, West Hollywood night clubber, in his twenties, speaking in 1999. Through alternating monologues, they dramatize gay history in the United States over the course of three decades.
The simple set consists of a raised rectangular module, three white cubes of varying sizes, one of which is also a television monitor, and two viewing screens on the walls. These devices are prominently utilized, as much of the show relies on the highly inventive media design by Mr. Pulos that conveys the eras of the characters.
Very well-executed slide projections of gay rights marches in San Francisco, graffiti covered New York City subway cars, Ronald Reagan, Rock Hudson, Times Square, Harvey Milk, bars, nightclubs, Castro Street and Monica Lewinsky are among numerous images shown. There are also exciting animations, such as one composed of Keith Haring drawings.
The soundtrack is made up of snippets of artists including The Trammps (“Disco Inferno”), Jimi Hendrix, Duran Duran, Herbie Hancock, Ricky Martin, REM, Nirvana, The Village People, and Madonna. It all makes for vivid, instant shorthand for setting the various time periods. The finale is an extended sequence of edited news footage that brings the saga of the gay rights struggle up to the present day.
Mr. Pulos’ writing concisely and effectively defines each character. Some could view them as typical gay stereotypes, but with descriptive biographical details and personality traits, they come across as real individuals. Visits to a bathhouse, a public health clinic, and nightclubs are rendered with authenticity.
He performs all three roles excellently. Making full use of his expressive eyes, angular features, athletic body, and resonant voice, he switches back and forth seamlessly. Besides his considerable acting and dancing talents, this is also accomplished with varying hairstyles, a wig and different costumes. The transformations take place while he briefly leaves the stage and videos play.
All of these technical aspects and quick changes are coordinated by Barbara Parisi’s dexterous and inspired direction. The presentation is brisk and continuous while still achieving great emotion. A very brief sequence of male nudity occurs when Patrick movingly recalls the death of a lover from AIDS and disrobes. It is staged subtly, in semi-darkness, and powerfully symbolizes his raw feelings.
The Ryan Repertory Company, which produces material with a social message aimed at enlightening young adults as well as regular audiences, has presented the show. Decades Apart: Reflections of Three Gay Men is an outstanding work that entertainingly fulfills that mission.
Decades Apart: Reflections of Three Gay Men (through November 16th, 2014)
Ryan Repertory Company
Harry Warren Theatre, 2445 Bath Avenue, in Brooklyn
For tickets, call 800-838-3006 or visit http://www.brownpapertickets.com
Running time: 80 minutes with no intermission