Siegmund Fuchs’ mutigenerational dramedy, In the Closet, now having its New York premiere, has a fascinating premise: four gay men meet in a literal and metaphoric closet to give advice to the youngest, an 18-year-old college freshman who has just had sex with a man for the first time. Fuchs uses this idea to dramatize the various stages that gay men go through, from callow youth to senior citizen and shows the steps along the way.
While the premise is both relevant and timely, the play itself is marred by repetition, generic characters and a too languid pace from director Eli Carpenter. The same dialogue repeats, while the characters are each defined by one event in their lives and we learn little about each of them. The wisdom is not deeper than
“We’re constantly putting ourselves in and out of the closet,” and “Well, it gets better, trust me.” Nevertheless, the play is clever about keeping us guessing as to the relationships between the men, and they also play various characters in each other’s flashbacks.
G. Austin Allen’s set is a larger-than-life closet draped in purple cloth and which also includes a kitchen. To this room comes the older man in his mid-60’s who has discovered that as his husband Steven is dying of cancer, nursing homes are ambivalent about taking in gay men. Next is a middle-aged man in his mid-40’s who has had an emotional meltdown having realized he is soon to turn 50 and has no partner to fill his lonely life at which he was bartending. And then there is the hunky man in his late 20’s who is in the midst of a trial against his boss and his friend who raped him after a sex party. They are also there to give advice to teenage John, still asleep in the next room, when he wakes up confused after his first gay sexual encounter.
As each man tells his story to John, he feels he will never want to leave the closet. However, they explain to him that each age comes with its own highs and lows. They relive the moment that has defined them at that age: the twentysomething’s trial, the older man by his husband’s bedside, and the middle-aged man beginning again in a gay bar. They also reminisce about their various childhoods that led them to this place.
The play also deals with the question of ageism in the gay community, a timely and topical theme. The middle-aged man has discovered to his chagrin, “And then you get older. And when you finally want something meaningful, there’s no one to be found. ,And you’re irrelevant. I mean sure, we can all march arm and arm at pride parades, but they are not marching for my equality, they’re not marching for your equality. The only reason we’re relevant is because they don’t want to become us. We terrify them because we remind them of that fear of getting older.”
However, the play seems a bit dated in that all four men define themselves entirely in term of sex, either getting it or not getting it. “Ours is an identity defined by sexuality, and when you no longer feel sexual, it strikes at your very core.” This was most likely true years ago, but with acceptance of gay rights, this no longer seems to be the major factor in the lives of gay men.
The actors are clearly defined by their age identity but not all are equally well cast. As the older man, Paul Page with his salt and pepper beard and hair is quite wise in the ways of the world. As the hunky twentysomething who arrives in a tight white undershirt, Ed Rosini has the swagger of youth and the assurance of masculine beauty. On the other hand, as the middle-aged man going through a mid-life depression, not coping very well with the rut in which he finds himself, James O’Hagan-Murphy is more than a bit too hysterical and self-pitying, blaming each of the other ages for his problems. Ryan Avalos looks too old to be convincing as a naïve teenager. Carlos Pabon’s appropriate costumes help identity the four ages of men, and his props are useful accoutrements for the simple setting with its one table and bureau and hidden chairs that come out of the covered closets.
In the Closet by Siegmund Fuchs is an admirable attempt to deal with ageism and the several stages in the lives of gay men. However, it doesn’t go quite far enough in portraying each of the stages nor does it have enough enlightenment as a cautionary tale. It does evolve in an entertaining manner in Eli Carpenter’s assured and controlled production, without delving too deeply into the relevant experiences.
In the Closet (through June 16, 2019)
Theatre Row’s Studio Theatre, 410 W. 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit http://www.telecharge.com
Running time: two hours and ten minutes including one intermission