The Twentieth-Century Way by Tom Jacobson – Los Angeles Theater Review
NEW THEATER IN AMERICA: PART TWO
by Harvey Perr
published May 26 , 2010
The Twentieth-Century Way
now playing in Los Angeles (Pasadena) at The Theatre@Boston Court
through June 6
plays at the New York International Fringe
Festival in August 2010
The Theatre@Boston Court is to be gratefully congratulated for bringing gay theater into the twenty-first century
with their production of Tom Jacobson’s The Twentieth-Century Way. This amazing and deliciously devious construct actually dares to give an audience something to be
challenged by while in the theater and to seriously ponder long after one has left the theater. When was the last time one can remember
having a similar experience in the theater?
It is not that Jacobson’s play is perfect or without its longeurs (even in its compact 95 minutes), but its devilish
way of juxtaposing truth and fiction, reality and imagination, history and present time, and, best of all, moving from its myriad display
of theatrical effects to a shimmering and shattering look at the human heart, can be genuinely breathtaking.
The premise is simplicity itself. We are in a theater circa 1914. Two actors come
to audition for what is presumably the same part in a play. They couldn’t be more different.
One is fair and gentle. The other is dark and vivid. One is apple pie America, the other urban tough. Their link is historical. There really
were two actors who were employed by the police to entrap homosexuals in Long Beach at that period. Is this what they are auditioning for?
Or is the more theatrical of the two actors merely recruiting the other for the job? Are they in competition? Are they working together?
Before long, Brown (the fair) and Warren (the dark) are playing out more roles than could possibly exist in a single play, but, of course,
there they are, in a single play, acting out all those roles and taking us on a roller coaster ride through gay history. Who is guilty, it
asks, the perpetrator or the perpetrated? How much has changed, for all our relaxation of so many of the rules, since 1914? Forget how much
homosexuality society can accept. How much homosexuality can a homosexual accept?
Jacobson deserves praise for the elegance of his writing, but even more for the intricacy of his design. If the two
actors he has created with knowing skill often find themselves baffled by what they are doing, the audience is equally puzzled, but, just
as his actors seem to take pleasure in the journey they are on, so the audience remains fascinated watching them. This is theatrical
trickery of a sort, but its twists and turns are bold and even funny and almost always worthy of paying serious attention to. There is a
sense of the period that comes through with unerring accuracy, in the manner of the actors and in Garry Lennon’s neat costumes, but
especially in Jacobson’s evocative writing. Anachronisms are rare, but there are just enough of them to suggest that they are
Jacobson is beautifully served by his director, Michael Michetti, whose gift for both fluidity
and precision is quite finely-tuned. Although the sheer perversity of the style can be as exasperating as it is exhilarating, Michetti keeps
things moving. And his handling of the denouement – which includes full frontal nudity – is superbly controlled, exhibiting a real sense of
the humanity that breaks through what might have been a merely tasty intellectual exercise. One can’t help but wonder how much subtlety and
nuance could have been achieved if two really great actors were playing Brown and Warren, but the grandstand performances of Will Bradley
and Robert Mammana are stylishly drawn and, though one sometimes feels that one or the other is about to burst out in song, they in no way
distract from the power of the play.
The Twentieth-Century Way is solid
theater. It is, in many ways, much more than that. It makes you think and, without pushing things in the direction of sentimentality, it makes
you feel. Also, without stressing the limitations of such a statement, it is one of the most intelligent and sobering plays in the short
history of gay theater.
harveyperr @ stageandcinema.com
photos by Ed Krieger
for tickets, visit http://www.bostoncourt.com/the_show.htm
click here to read NEW THEATER IN AMERICA: PART ONE