At a Vermont university, we meet two 21-year-old gay male students who fall in love. Balthazar is preciously nicknamed Balti and Jacob is nicknamed Jaker. Their best friends are the lesbian couple Elena and Tricia who are also students. These are decidedly not on a work study program as their rarified backgrounds are hinted at by their esoteric sensibilities. Further quotations of Foucault are delivered by an actress in a fake French accent.
Jaker’s grandmother Georgette is subsidizing Jaker’s Art History major as his practical parents are critical of his intended path: “I’ll put more money in your account.”
Georgette is coming to visit and Jaker isn’t ready to disclose that he’s gay. He contrives a dinner party where he’ll be romantically linked to one of the lesbians. Balti and the other woman will be in attendance as friends. This potential premise for a snappy boulevard comedy à la La Cage aux Folles is instead used for a painfully unsatisfying exhibition.
When Georgette arrives, instead of an actress playing her, she is depicted by the four actors taking turns portraying her through superficial characterizations that involve scrunching up their bodies and speaking in aged tones. Absurdly, the cheery, skillful mature actress Beth Griffith pops up as Georgette near the end.
Just when you think things can’t get any worse, they do.
Out of nowhere, a cherub on a pole appears from Nicolas Poussin’s painting A Dance to the Music of Time. After verbose chit chat, he transports Balti to 1950’s Arizona. He is given a new identity as Blair, and interacts with characters in a film noir setting with actors now dressed in trench coats and fedoras. One also plays a snake. Then Blair is transported to the 1930’s and The Great Depression. The dialogue here is filled with references to events and people of those eras. Much of the skullduggery centers on events from Georgette’s past life. Everything is wrapped up by some cast members singing Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” Why not? The inconclusive finale has the cast standing while the audience is at first confused that it’s actually over.
Burkhardt tosses in a good deal of simulated sex scenes between the two young men who are often shirtless and much of this takes place in a bush cave. The play’s LGBTQ sensibility is more of a concern than coherence. It all plays out as a self-conscious hollow spectacle, wasting the time of the audience and of the company of eager youthful actors.
The rest of the cast includes Ben Langhorst as Balti, Kennedy Kanagawa as Jaker, Jermaine Golden as the Cherub, Jessie Shelton as Elena and Gianna Masi as Tricia. Brian Kim is Cactus Eyes, a Korean-American who is also caught up in the machinations.
Director Ellie Heyman’s staging gracefully keeps thing moving so that the production is at least watchable. James Fluhr’s scenic design is creatively abstract though clearly represents the locales. Lighting designer Mary Ellen Stebbins come up with cool effects that convey the time traveling.
Burkhardt’s musical direction is expert with him on piano, John Murchison on bass and Jessie Shelton on violin, all sounding pleasant.
British dramatist Caryl Churchill is known for her non-naturalistic works such as Cloud Nine, Top Girls and Serious Money that blend history, sexuality and politics into substantive theatrical experiences. Dinner With Georgette has such aspirations but is woefully off course.
Dinner With Georgette (through April 7, 2018)
Next Door at NYTW, 79 East Fourth Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-460-5475 or visit http://www.nytw.org
Running time: one hour and 40 minutes with no intermission