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Some Men

Theatre Reviews by Matthew Murray

David Greenspan and Don Amendolia
Photo by Joan Marcus

While you can't depend on history's being recounted accurately or at all, you can always count on the young's resistance to it if they don't want to accept how things actually were. This is not the intended lesson of Some Men, Terrence McNally's kaleidoscopic survey course on contemporary gay love that just opened at Second Stage, but it's the sole one this usually more erudite lecturer really brings to life.

It arises because of a scene set in Washington Square Park, where two young gay gender studies majors at Vassar are interviewing two longtime partners, Aaron and Scoop (Don Amendolia and David Greenspan), to "find out what it was like to be part of the pre-Stonewall oppressed and non-liberated generation." But the younger men, expecting and desiring tales of protest, anger, and outrage about living life in secret, aren't prepared for Aaron and Scoop's perspective of living a rich, full life as its own reward.

"It was different then," Scoop admits. "We didn't make so much of a fuss. Maybe we should have."

"Are you telling us we fought the police at Stonewall and petitioned the legislatures for change when we didn't have to?" one of the young men retorts. "That we screamed our guts out so fewer men would die from AIDS but we shouldn't have bothered?"

"We're very glad you did," Scoop replies gently. The interview has by now collapsed into the generation gap. Scoop, however, can't help but remain puzzled. "We're a couple of non-threatening, assimilated homosexuals. We're out, we're proud and nobody notices."

That line imparts McNally's message about the ubiquity and romantic beauty of gay love far better than the rest of the play manages. The show is about exactly this conflict, between the legendary views of history - as seen through both close-up and wide-angle lenses - and the way it was actually lived. But lacking the distillation of content and full-on confrontation between those who experienced it and those who only think they understand, the other scenes don't provide the same satisfying punch. Sitting through Some Men if you didn't survive the eras it depicts is a lot like watching home movies of someone else's vacation.

Around piano: Pedro Pascal, Michael McElroy, Don Amendolia, Romain Frugé, Randy Redd; in mirror reflection: Jesse Hooker, Kelly AuCoin, Frederick Weller
Photo by Joan Marcus

McNally covers all his bases as he explores the backgrounds of nine men attending a 2007 gay wedding. There's a young soldier (Frederick Weller) who attends his lover's funeral and must confront his very conservative father. A family man named Bernie (Kelly AuCoin) admits his homosexuality in the early 1970s, leaves his wife and children, falls in love with a man named Carl (Romain Frugé) he met at a bath house, and three decades later spars with his own son (Jesse Hooker) as he and his partner Marcus (Michael McElroy) prepare to adopt a daughter. Slice-of-life scenes are set in an Internet chat room, a hospital at the height of the AIDS crisis, a Seventh Avenue piano bar soon after Judy Garland's 1969 death, and a group therapy session.

But despite Trip Cullman's driving direction and the elegance of Mark Wendland's scenic design (the 2007 wedding is held at the Waldorf), Some Men is a repetitive, unfocused, and occasionally confusing two and a half hours. Encompassing 84 years (including poorly realized digressions to the 1922 Hamptons and 1932 Harlem) and over 50 characters, the play doesn't want for breadth, but never digs far enough into these men's unique lives to make a case for them as subjects worthy of examination.

By revealing so little of these men's personalities, McNally forces them to become walking and talking symbols; as such, they impart little bite into their scenes, and few linger in the memory once they've said their piece and vanish again. Each performer's being double, quadruple, or quintuple cast does not aid in heightening his individuality, but it's unlikely this play would be appreciably clearer even with a cast of dozens.

David Greenspan and Kelly AuCoin
Photo by Joan Marcus

The actors do the best they can: Amendolia brings an avuncular charm to his characters, Frugé is generically likeable throughout, and Greenspan puts a few interesting new spins on his characters' consistent swishiness (in the first-act finale, set against the Stonewall riots, he plays a cross-dresser with an uncanny resemblance to the 1980s Patti LuPone). AuCoin convinces as Bernie, for whom conventionality is as common now as the closet once was. The other performers, who include Pedro Pascal and Randy Redd, scarcely pause in one persona long enough to make an impression.

This is especially odd in the case of McElroy and Weller, who've served with often magnetic distinction in other shows, but here tend to reduce their characterizations to bland, broad strokes. One can't really fault them, though, for failing to hold up their portions of this picaresque. While McNally has achieved his basic goal of highlighting and celebrating the vagaries, inconsistencies, and flat-out contradictions of love between men, he has not ignited the spark needed to transform all these vignettes into an epic.

Perhaps that's neither possible nor necessary. McNally's point, much like Aaron and Scoop's in the Washington Square Park scene, is that everything need not be world-changing; the ordinary can sometimes be extraordinary enough. Some Men, unfortunately, is not.

Some Men
Through April 15
Second Stage Theatre, 307 West 43rd Street at 8th Avenue
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: Second Stage Theatre

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