Sunday, May 27, 2007

Facing East - May 27, 2007

The extremely negative treatment of homosexuals within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon) is not new ground for the stage, i.e. Angels in America, Confessions of a Mormon Boy. So I was pretty sure I knew the territory we'd be exploring in Facing East. What I was unprepared for was the incredibly high quality of the acting and the writing. Here's where I must admit to a bit of New York bias here as this show has transferred in from Utah I truly didn't expect this level of polish. In this case the unexpected was a very good thing indeed.

The title refers to the day of resurrection when the chosen will be called to heaven - exactly as they were when they were buried which prompts an amusing anecdote about a great aunt wanting assurances that the funeral director would securely attach her stockings to a garter so she would not have her nylons around her ankles when she rose up and stood before the lord. The Lord coming in from the east, which is why all the graves in the cemetery the play is set in face east. No unsightly spinning in the graves here, you simply rise up and you're facing east.

And yes, I did say that the play is set in a cemetery. This is where we meet Ruth and Alex whose son Andrew's funeral has just ended. Alex cannot bring himself to leave the grave site so the groundskeepers can "fill in". He is torn up by the hypocrisy of the funeral "No one should attend the funeral of someone they didn't know. We didn't know him." The story focuses primarily on Alex, who is the host of a soon-to-be syndicated radio show called One-Minute Dad where he dispenses daily doses of homespun fatherly advice; yet feels "I failed my own son." Alex's (Charles Lynn Frost) remorse is palpable and his sorrow at the loss of his son could have turned to teeth gnashing and anger but instead is handled with dignity and depth of emotion that had a majority of the audience in tears. Yeah, okay I admit it, I was one of 'em. But I heard LOTS of sniffling so I wasn't the only one!

Ruth (Jayne Luke) is a remarkably well-controlled mother in mourning. Her religion is her rock and her role as mother is her greatest accomplishment - yet she seems unusually calm about Andrew's death - even for someone with such intense faith in the hereafter. We find out why later in the show but I will not divulge that here. Ruth's hint of chill could have made her a monster, but Luke makes sure she is not. She, like Alex, are fully developed HUMANS with just as many flaws as any of us - and just as many good points. As they talk about the Andrew they knew in a 'do-over' of the funeral that Alex insists they perform regardless of the fact that people are waiting for them, we find out about Andrew (who never appears). Flashback conversations are cleverly staged by having one parent in black-out speaking 'as Andrew' while the other parent recounts a memory giving us insight into their talented, spiritual, sweet-natured, 24 year old son who took his own life and who happens to have been gay.

In the last third of the show we meet Marcus (Jay Perry) who was Andrew's lover (his one and only) for the last year. Marcus arrives graveside hoping to be late enough to have missed the family whom he did not want to upset by being present. As Marcus reveals his stories of Andrew we find that despite the 'ultimate, unforgivable sin of homosexuality' many members of their family had been regular visitors to Andrew and Marcus's home. Alex seems truly crushed to learn this because he was not a part of it, at the same time he seems somewhat comforted that some people had the good sense to love his son the way he deserved to be loved. Alex having lost the true love of his life, before his marriage, firmly believes "everyone deserves a chance to be in love". It is unfortunate that he did not practice that belief more strongly with Andrew, but despite what may read as 'downer' material here, Facing East ends with a sense of redemption and hope.

Though this show is still in previews, I am posting this now because this show is a limited engagement and I hope this gives people a chance to get in there and see it. You will cry, you will laugh, you will be moved and you will not be sorry you went. (But do remember to bring some tissues.)

Facing East
Atlantic Stage Two
330 West 16th St.
New York, NY 10011
Tickets: 212-279-4200
Opening Night - May 29
Limited engagement through June 17
Running time: 75 minutes (no intermission)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was also at a preview on Saturday - this is an amazing, moving and inspiring play. I was raised Catholic and there is a lot that is "cross-denominational about this play