The stage is bare except for some chairs and a rehearsal hall mirror.
That first number takes place at The Flamingo in Las Vegas and Wellington arrives to put everyone through their paces before that evening’s show. We then switch to him being interviewed as he tells the story of his eventful life. Le Blanc runs two hours and twenty minutes with a five-minute pause and by the time it ends it’s been a wearying experience.
Mr. Summers’ noble ambition to depict an alternative view of gay life other than that of the white upper-middle-class is waylaid by shaky dramaturgy. The structure is a ramshackle though often finely-written series of scenes that authentically capture life on the streets of New York City with emotion and humor.
Those who’ve seen the 1991 documentary Paris Is Burning and the current television series Pose will be familiar with the encapsulation of Ball culture represented here. It’s a world of minority gay and trans people living together in apartments named “House Of…” presided over by a mother figure. Central to this existence is competing at balls in various performance categories for trophies.
A central concern of the play is detailing Wellington’s five love interests: a white guy he meets at a hilarious Brooklyn vegan party, an Indian young man, an 18-year-old Muslim food cart vendor, his older married agent and the drug dealer he’s known since his California days. Well into the show there’s a rapid bit where each of them enter as Wellington imparts factoids about them and it’s a neat theatrical device that swiftly informs us of the pertinent details. However, previously we’ve spent a lot of time repetitiously going back and forth between these figures. This thread’s deficiency is compounded by the play’s incessant non-linear structure as we get the same basic information over and over in a different order.
Mr. Summers pungent dialogue ameliorates his overloaded conception to a degree. The issue of AIDS gets an extended treatment at a clinic where Wellington espouses contrary views about its existence. It’s one of several scenes that sidetrack the actual plot to make variably worthy sociological statements. The bleak twist revealed at the finale is out of a 1940’s Warner Brothers crime drama but its redemptive impact is diminished by the meandering that has come before it.
As Harvey Fierstein played the leading role in his Torch Song Trilogy, Summers also portrays Wellington. It’s an entrancing performance that holds attention as Summers dances, finger snaps and erupts with joy and sorrow. Wearing various wigs and flamboyant costumes, he is fiercely commanding.
Antino Crowley-Kamenwati, Jeremy Rafal, Onkar Singh Dhindsa, Josie Bustamante and Terrence McCleveland all make an impact as the men in Wellington’s life with their strong characterizations. During the opening, the suited-up Mr. McCleveland with his tall and athletic physique and placid manner resembles one of the dancers from Madonna’s “Vogue” video adding a sly touch.
The engagingly feisty LisaRoxanne Walters is hard-edged as the interviewer and touching as a tragic figure from Wellington’s early life. Breezy Leigh, Ian Coulter Buford, Samantha Randolph, Lucile “Frak” Graciano, Kenyon L. O’Brien, Nick Dorvil, Ninny Keisha, Stephanie Uttro and Kalen Rae Garnett comprise the rest of the ensemble who vigorously dance and portray a variety of characters with charm and enthusiasm.
The staging by co-directors Ms. Walters and Summers is quite accomplished as the dialogue scenes have momentum and visual interest. Summers’ energetic choreography makes the periodic dance numbers exhilarating.
Jen Sommer creates a charged dimension of multi-colored hues, ominous darkness, explosive brightness and crashing blackouts with her kinetic lighting design. The accompanying soundtrack of evocative pop songs and effects are perfectly realized by sound designer Kassy Rivera.
Le Blanc was a selection for the Negro Ensemble Company’s Emerging Playwright Festival and has had developmental incarnations at The Muse and BRIC Arts both in Brooklyn and La MaMa. This full production could be viewed as another step in its completion. Its beginning and ending are powerful but what’s in between is problematic.
Le Blanc (through August 6, 2018)
House of Le Blanc
The PIT Loft, 154 West 29th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-244-1722 or visit http://www.houseofleblanc.com
Running time: two hours and 20 minutes including one intermission