"Angry Fags" by Topher Payne at 7 Stages, March 28, 2019 - April 14, 2019
Since the site is not allowing the posting of reviews in its normal place, the backlog of my reviews will be going to the forum
Title: An Apologia for Terrorism
The action takes place on Kat Conley’s massive set, consisting of three high platforms with steps down to the stage floor (eight steps for the ones at left and right; six steps for the one in the middle). The whole thing is backed by a city skyline covered in what seems to be overlapping squares of metallic material. The middle platform is set up as the foyer/living room/kitchen/dining area of the apartment shared by Bennett Riggs (Gregory Hernandez) and Cooper Harlow (Cody Russell), all modern and sleek and teal. The platform stage right houses the elegant office of lesbian senator Allison Haines (Gina Rickicki) with desk and leather chairs. The platform stage left is changed up occasionally, but initially portrays a rooftop or greenspace on which a picnic blanket has been spread. The floor of the stage is used for a variety of scenes, a couple of which have furniture lugged on.
Katherine "Katya" Neslund’s lighting design sets the appropriate mood for each scene and illuminates the sections of the stage on which action will occur. In conjunction with Dan Bauman’s sound design, some fine special effects occur. Dr. L. Nyrobi N. Moss’s nice variety of costumes and Devi Wells’ restrained collection of props and set dressing might lead you to believe that this is a visually impressive production. The let-down, however, comes with Maranda DeBusk’s projection design. The surface of the set is so ill-suited to displaying projections that the 13 video-only actors listed in the program are barely recognizable at best. There’s also movement in some of the projections that aren’t accompanied by sound. For a dappled, woodsy look at the start of the show, fluttering leaves are a nice touch. For the amorphous shapes flickering over the dark portions of the backdrop in the final scenes, it’s a huge distraction. Insufficient design consideration has been given to the multi-media component of this three-hour work (including intermission).
Otherwise, Kate Donadio MacQueen (director) and Ibi Owalabi (co-director) have created a production that makes good use of the playing space and gets strong performances out of all the actors, but not necessarily indelible portrayals. Topher Payne’s script contains nicely individualized characters, so they’re relatively straightforward to play. The best overall performance may be by Kelly Criss, who runs Senator Haines’ office. She lands all the comedy in her role and also excels as the play becomes more serious. Brandon Partrick, playing another worker in the senator’s office, also makes a good impression. Gina Rickicki has her moments; Parris Sarter, as her political opponent, has even more. Messrs. Hernandez and Russell manage the emotional arcs of their central characters with skill. Carolyn Cook, rounding out the cast as a TV reporter, underplays her role.
The script is filled with Topher Payne’s trademark comedy, with lots of 1980’s movie and TV references. Things get political early on, with occasional references to the current national political scene, but the instigating incident of a gay-bashing death doesn’t seem very current. The script has been updated since its 2013 premiere, but it still traces a spiraling downturn as LGBT activism turns to extremism turns to terrorism. There are viscerally exciting twists as the plot comes to a close, but there’s a lot of play beforehand.
The first scene is problematic. Chronologically, it would occur midway through the second act. Placing it in the first act balances out the playing times of the two acts a bit better and lets us know early on that terrorism will play a big role in the show, but the scene drags. We get to know swishy Cooper and hunky Bennett, but the play doesn’t really feel like it has begun until the second scene. Portions of the play fly by and others plod. There’s a lot of interesting and entertaining material, but perhaps too much of it. Still, all in all, "Angry Fags" has audiences cheering.