Two plays at the Alley Theatre, one by a gay author, the other with a closeted character.
by Donalevan Maines
Christopher Durang is the openly gay author of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. Last year, after decades of toiling in New York with his Yale School of Drama classmate Sigourney Weaver, creating plays like Beyond Therapy (1982) and The Marriage of Bette and Boo (1985), he won a Tony Award when Vanya took Best Play honors for 2013. The production is already on the Hubbard Stage at the Alley Theatre; its ActOUT performance is June 5 at 7:30 p.m.
On Broadway, out actor David Hyde Pierce played gay but sexless Vanya, who lives a quiet life with his sister Sonia in a picturesque stone farmhouse in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where they grew up. Then their movie-star sister Masha returns unannounced with Spike, her 20-something boy toy. In Houston, Spike is played by handsome Jay Sullivan, who won raves last year as the diapered John Merrick in The Elephant Man. In 2011,the Florida State University graduate appeared on Broadway as slacker Lee Dewyze in Jerusalem.
Stevie Grimes is a character in the Alley’s other June offering, Good People by David Lindsay-Abaire.
The play begins in the alley behind a dollar store in South Boston, Massachusetts. Standing next to a dumpster and a rusty chair, it’s Stevie’s job to fire Margaret, a 50-something cashier, because she keeps coming in late.
“It’s not just me, Stevie,” Margaret protests, adding that another worker is “late a lot more than I am. And she says you’re gay.”
All of the play’s blue-collar characters think Stevie is gay—“Because you go to bingo,” explains Margaret.
“That makes me gay?” he asks. Never mind that Stevie is dating a female.
Lindsay-Abaire, who won a Pulitzer Prize for Rabbit Hole and penned the book and lyrics for Shrek the Musical, paints the “good people” of working-class Boston as perhaps racist and homophobic, but the audience understands how they could feel cornered by what life has handed them.
“Good People is a funny, tough, and tender story about the insurmountable class divide,” says Alley press material.
It’s no wonder that when Stevie wins at bingo, a competitor who’s desperate to win the prize herself calls Stevie a “cocksucker.” But hang around and you might see how it’s the “gay guy” who’s really “good people.”
In 2011, both Good People and Jerusalem were nominated for Best Play at the Tony Awards (losing to War Horse), and, as Margaret, Frances McDormand (the Oscar winner for Fargo) won Best Actress.
Elizabeth Bunch, who hasappeared in more than 40 productions at the Alley Theatre since 2002, portrays Margaret in the local production, along with Dylan Godwin as Stevie, Jennifer Harmon (Violet Weston in last season’s August: Osage County), Chris Hutchison, Krystel Lucas, and Melissa Pritchett.
Last year, David Hyde Pierce was nominated for Best Actor in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, along with Kristine Nielsen (as Sonia) for Best Actress, Billy Magnussen (as the “narcissistic” Spike) for Best Featured Actor in a Play, and Shalita Grant (as the housekeeper, Cassandra) for Best Featured Actress in a Play.
Variety wrote, “While its surfaces might seem slight or even frivolous, this is a work by a mature playwright taking stock and illuminating countless universal truths for those of us who have hit contemplative middle age. He also demonstrates the enduring currency of Chekhov’s themes, showing that for all our supposed progress in the era of mass connectivity, despair and disappointment are as present as ever. Just like our Russian brethren more than a century ago, we are inescapably creatures of our time.”
In addition to Sullivan, the Alley cast includes Jeffrey Bean, Tony Award nominee Josie de Guzman (who was so splendid in last summer’s Agatha Christie play The Hollow), Rachael Holmes, Sharon Lockwood, and Sarah Nealis.
Durang, who lives in Pennsylvania, has a bachelor of arts degree from Harvard College and a master of fine arts degree in playwriting from Yale School of Drama, where he worked with Sigourney Weaver, Albert Innaurato, Meryl Streep, and Wendy Wasserstein. Among his other plays are A History of the American Film (which received a Tony nomination for Best Book of a Musical in 1978), The Actor’s Nightmare, Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You (which won an Obie award for its off-Broadway run from 1981 to 1983), Baby with the Bathwater, andAdrift in Macao.