This is a tirade delivered by the winsome 26-year old Myna (“like the bird”) at a dinner party peopled by two wealthy early middle-aged gay couples in author Jordan Harrison’s superficially topical and issues-oriented play Log Cabin.
Perhaps this searing moment is self-acknowledgement by Mr. Harrison that he’s been pandering to the sensibility of the upper middle-class audiences who attend plays such as his at a subscriber-based New York City institutional theater. The world presented is of quince paste, barbecues on roof decks and dishes from a Yemeni cookbook and New York Times recipes. Myna’ outburst is a welcome respite from the sea of navel gazing and solipsism that comes before and after it.
She is the recent romantic companion of the transman Henry, formerly Helen who was the high school sweetheart of the gay Ezra. His profession is that of a stalled writer of “pieces.” He has been in an eight-year relationship with the Kansas born African-American Chris who is a Harvard graduate, has a trust fund and no occupation. They’re close friends with the lesbian couple Jules (short for Julia) who seemingly also does nothing and Pam who works in finance and makes close to a million dollars a year. Most of the action takes place in the women’s fabulous Brooklyn apartment with a much remarked upon roof deck. They have a newborn son that Pam gave birth to through artificial insemination and who turns out to be developmentally challenged.
Structured as short scenes set between 2012 and 2017, Harrison crams in just about every possible social concern in his overloaded scenario that includes the traumatic evening of Election Day 2016. “Everyone’s saying it’s going to be over by 6:30…Huffington Post has her at 97%.”
Gay marriage and the complications of having children are prominently portrayed with infidelities causing turmoil. There are lengthy debates about transgender and cisgender conflicts and male privilege. A heated discussion of sociological ramifications in the musical Wicked incites a fierce confrontation.
Cringeworthy portions have children played by adults during fantasy sequences. Equally as painful is a bit demonstrating the sexual role-playing between Ezra and Chris where one of them is in military attire as Captain von Trapp from The Sound of Music. There’s an uneasy graphic female masturbatory sequence. The sole instance of unbridled lust and passion is the description of an off-stage incident involving oral sex in a taxi cab.
Harrison’s dialogue is well-crafted and often in setup punchline mode peppered with plentiful pop culture references that falls flat. The overall effect is of a rote accumulation of touchstones appealing to this strata. It’s all without resonance unless one is like the characters being depicted. It’s certainly possible to dramatize the concerns of differing classes with cross-sectional interest but that is not the case in Log Cabin. This title is most likely a play on Log Cabin Republicans who are gay and might reflect that some of the characters are actually more Conservative then they let on.
Though brief and a device to derisively convey a Millennial sensibility, Myna’s appearance is a shattering though token injection of criticism of the hermetic environment the other characters exist in. The wide-eyed, animated and personable Talene Monahon wonderfully makes the most of this mouthpiece part with her cheery and eventually raw performance.
The uniformly engaging cast embraces their brittle roles with flair. Stage veteran and Modern Family star Jesse Tyler Ferguson’s superior comic timing and emotional intensity is vividly exhibited as Ezra. As Chris, the beaming and likeable Phillip James Brannon is mellow but with dashes of expressiveness. Cindy Cheung’s expertly dry demeanor as Pam makes her pivotal speech about maintaining relationships even more brilliant with her sudden wrenching delivery. Dolly Wells’ crisp English accent endows Jules with an optimum of icy hauteur. The soulful Ian Harvie is quite poignant as Henry and suitably eerie as a baby.
Director Pam MacKinnon physically stages the actions with considerable skill and faithfully renders the author’s vision with inventiveness.
The play’s busyness is realized by scenic designer Allen Moyer’s reliance on a turn table that swiftly has the scenes flowing from one locale to another. Mr. Moyer main achievement is the richly detailed apartment that’s set with premium furnishings including plentifully stocked bookcases. The child’s bedroom has colorful animal-print wallpaper and a teepee. It’s all the right environment for these rarified individuals.
Russell H. Champa’s striking lighting design vigorously connotes the passage of time. Sound designer Leah Gelpe mainly blasts the snippets of bland pop music that punctuates the scenes. Jessica Pabst’s costume design is appropriately upscale casual.
The Brown graduate and 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Drama finalist for Marjorie Prime Jordan Harrison in Log Cabin offers a precious take on “The Way We Live Now.” Considering the present climate, it’s disappointing to be offered comfortable pablum rather than the spirit of Look Back in Anger. Matthew-Lee Erlbach’s Sex of the Baby was an overlooked 2015 play produced at the Access Theater that tackled many of these themes in a far more novel and significant manner.
Log Cabin (through July 15, 2018)
Mainstage Theater, 416 West 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-279-4200 or visit http://www.playwrightshorizons.org
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission