I was too scared to break the rules.
I guess that piece of myself was always locked in a box deep inside.
But when my wife died, Freddy came to her funeral with a bouquet of sunflowers. As he gave his condolences, I stared at my sunflower holding those sunflowers.
I asked him to stay.
So reminisces a 74-year-old dying single gay Black man in playwright Mansa Ra’s well-observed and enchanting comedic family drama, …what the end will be. Through earthy dialogue laced with humor and pathos, and appealing complex characters, Mr. Ra crafts an exceptional play with a novel premise, three generations of related gay men living together. “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
In a wheelchair, riddled with bone cancer, Bartholomew has come to stay in the lavish art-filled Atlanta, Georgia, house of his combative hard-drinking corporate executive son Maxwell. Maxwell also married a woman, but the marriage broke up after she caught him in bed with a man, and he hasn’t yet come out at work. His 18-year-old high school football playing son Tony is gay and out. There’s also Tony’s flamboyant militant dress-wearing Black boyfriend Antoine, Maxwell’s stalwart white partner Charles, and Bartholomew’s amiable caregiver, Chloe. Bartholomew’s mental decline is evidenced by his seeing visions of his deceased partner Freddy whom he met when they fought together in Vietnam and who was carrying the hallowed sunflowers.
In four scenes spanning a few months, Ra renders his gay family trio’s life events, medical situations, numerous clashes and resolutions with pungent topicality. The pandemic is referenced, gender and pronouns are discussed, and cultural bromides are stated: “Black people can’t be racist. I read that on the Facebook.” Ra’s characters are given rich portrayals by the splendid cast.
With his melodious voice, priceless facial expressions and stage presence, veteran actor Keith Randolph Smith grounds the production with his towering performance as Bartholomew. As Maxwell, the fiery Emerson Brooks supremely conveys the character’s bottled-up emotions, offering a moving psychological portrait. The personable Gerald Caesar’s Tony is a vivid take on adolescent struggle.
Randy Harrison as Charles offers a winning take on the supportive spouse with his straightforward vocal delivery and calm manner. Lithe, animated and spunky Ryan Jamaal Swain hilariously and poignantly tranmits all of Antoine’s facets. The radiant Tiffany Villarin combines levity and warmth as the noble Chloe.
Director Margot Bordelon’s polished realization of the ensemble’s characterizations is matched by her smooth physical staging. Scenic designer Reid Thompson strategically provides an affluent residential setup with a well-decorated living room, choice paintings hanging, a grand staircase and a top-notch kitchen all on view, attesting to Maxwell’s high status. Jiyoun Chang’s lighting design excels both at realism and the fantastical. Sound designer Palmer Hefferan modulates music and effects with optimum results. Antoine’s fabulous feminine outfits are the highlights of Emilio Sosa’s otherwise fine contemporary everyday costume design.
This premiere production of …what the end will be was commissioned by the Roundabout Theatre Company which presented Mansa Ra’s playwrighting debut, Too Heavy for Your Pocket in 2017. In addition to the virtues previously cited, Ra also has a sequence imagining life after death that is so lovely, one wishes that it were true.
…what the end will be (through July 10, 2022)
Roundabout Theatre Company
Laura Pels Theatre in the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre, 111 West 46th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-719-1300 or visit http://www.roundabouttheatre.org
Running time: 90 minutes without an intermission