Los Angeles Theater Review: REVOLVER (Celebration Theatre in Hollywood)

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by Paul Birchall on June 20, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles

NOT JUST A GAY BAR ANY MORE

Paul Birchall's Stage and Cinema LA review of Celebration Theatre's "revolver."It is the unfortunate nature of some gay dramas to hammer home or leadenly evangelize a theme with a heavy hand.  You know the sort of thing I am talking about:  The drama about a homophobic thug who beats a gay person, with the beater portrayed as a one dimensional goon who could never really exist in the actual world without God opening up the ground beneath his feet and swallowing him whole – or the comedy about gay marriage with the evil anti-marriage preacher being depicted as a demonic fiend out of Hell himself.  Nuance is usually missing in this sort of play – as is the essential ambiguous nature of humanity – and when a philosophical point is made, it has the attitude of trying to convince folks of something when they’re already convinced.

Paul Birchall's Stage and Cinema LA review of Celebration Theatre's "revolver."Commendably, this kind of “preaching to the choir” is almost non-existent in playwright Chris Phillips’s genuinely moving and surprisingly fresh takes on many of the Gay Issues of the Day.  Yes, Phillips is aware of the sensibility of his audience – but rather than preach, pander, or cater to them, he takes the already established point of view and builds on it in challenging and sometimes unsettling ways.  In director Ryan Bergmann’s engagingly intimate world premiere of revolver, a six-person ensemble assays a half dozen plays that dig more deeply into many of the standard gay tropes.

Overarching theme for the bill is the notion of suffering repercussions of violence, specifically gay bashing, and, indeed, the possibility for ultimate redemption for those who commit these crimes.  The general tone of the evening is sweetly melancholic, with an underlying frisson of sadness and anger thrown in.

The most vividly angry piece involves a young man (Robert Paterno, dangerously edgy), who confronts at gunpoint the gay basher who killed the young man’s lover some years earlier.  As the pair’s argument devolves into a scenario of vendetta and rage, the piece takes on the mood of one of the Greg Araki movies from the 1990s, in Paul Birchall's Stage and Cinema LA review of Celebration Theatre's "revolver."which an outlaw gay dude gets his vengeance on an unsympathetic world.  By contrast, a far more subtle piece is framed as a philosophical argument, taking place in heaven, between a saintly Matthew Shepard (Daniel Montgomery) and the genuinely contrite man (A. J. Jones) who killed him.  Admittedly, it takes some chutzpah for the writer to put into Shepard’s mouth the kind and forgiving words that Phillips has him say – just as we can’t help but think it is a bit of a presumption to assume that the killer would be so quickly ashamed of his wicked deed – but if one gets past the obviousness of the set-up, the discussion on the need for atonement and for forgiveness is universal and remarkably moving.

Paul Birchall's Stage and Cinema LA review of Celebration Theatre's "revolver."The theme of forgiveness for transgressions is reiterated in a surreal sequence, also taking place in Heaven, in which a very hip and queer Jesus (Terrance Spencer) dances a sexy romantic tango with none other than Judas (Daniel Montgomery, again) before the two descend into their eternal argument about the nature of free will.

Perhaps even more intriguing – and dramatically broader – are the vignettes that deal with the essential unkindness gays bring upon themselves in their world.  A powerful sequence in which a pair of men, both mutual friends of a crystal meth abuser who died of an overdose in a bathhouse, meet up at the dead man’s apartment and voice mutual loathing of each other, offers a powerful statement on the nature of bitterness, blame, and grief.  And a thoughtful vignette concerns a young, idealistic gay journalist (Matthew Scott Montgomery) who nurses a personal crush while interviewing a cynical, hard boiled veteran of the ACT UP era (Colella, channeling an ironic-toned Michaelangelo Signorile type).

Paul Birchall's Stage and Cinema LA review of Celebration Theatre's "revolver."Phillips’ dialogue occasionally favors dialectic and philosophy over snappy banter and warmth, but director Bergmann nicely compensates for any dryness by prompting likable and vivid character work from his performers.  MS Montgomery’s sweetly soulful journalist is a particularly nice turn, as is Jones’s nicely pained gay basher.  Paterno’s crazed gay vendetta killer is also strangely moving, as well.

photos by Sean Lambert

revolver
Celebration Theatre in Hollywood
scheduled to end on July 21, 2013
for tickets, please call (323) 957-1884 or visit http://www.celebrationtheatre.com

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