Los Angeles Theater Review: DOCTOR ANONYMOUS (Zephyr Theatre)

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by Tony Frankel on April 5, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles

IS THERE A SHOW DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE?

There is a method of political activism called a “zap.” Basically, zaps are militant but non-violent face-to-face confrontations with persons in positions of authority, but when used in tandem with a media alert, they can be powerful weapons when Matt Crabtree and Barry Pearl in DOCTOR ANONYMOUS at the Zephyr Theatre.furthering a cause. Since gay activists in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s represented a largely closeted community, they didn’t have the manpower for mass demonstrations, such as the 1971 May Day antiwar demonstration in Washington D.C., so zaps were one of the few effective tools at their disposal. It just so happens that amidst the May Day Protests—while the Nixon Administration sent 10,000 troops to tear gas and arrest Viet Nam War protesters—the American Psychiatric Association was holding its annual conference in the chaotic city. Separate from the tiny “Gay Mayday” contingent of the protests was the newly formed D.C. chapter of Gay Activists Alliance, whose planned zap allowed Frank Kameny, one of the most noteworthy figures in gay rights history—and who coined the phrase “Gay is Good”—to sneak into the conference, seize a microphone, and protest the diagnosis of homosexuality as a mental illness.

(front) Kevin Held, Matt Crabtree and (rear) Richard Sabine in DOCTOR ANONYMOUS at the Zephyr Theatre.It is during this era that Guy Fredrick Glass begins his play Doctor Anonymous. The title refers to John E. Fryer, a gay psychiatrist who appeared at APA’s 1972 annual meeting in Dallas using a wig, mask, and voice-distorting microphone to shield his identity. Sitting alongside Kameny and fellow-activist Barbara Gittings, Fryer was introduced as “Dr. H. [for homosexual] Anonymous” at a panel discussion titled “Psychiatry: Friend or Foe to Homosexuals: A Dialogue.” This appearance helped to galvanize a group of largely closeted gay psychiatrists within APA at a time when homosexuality was still widely viewed as pathological by psychiatrists and society-at-large. The following year, APA removed homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Barry Pearl, Jonathan Torres, Matt Crabtree, Christopher Frontiero in DOCTOR ANONYMOUS at the Zephyr Theatre.According to Mr. Glass’s program notes, he is writing about his own experience as a gay psychiatrist in Philadelphia during those tumultuous years. Glass invented the closeted Matthew, who decides the only way he can be hired as a clinical psychiatrist is to erase his homosexuality. He opts for conversion therapy during his residency even as he has fallen for a handsome gay activist—one who is actively protesting the mayoral campaign of the conservative and slimy Police Commissioner, Frank Rizzo.

Matt Crabtree and Kevin Held in DOCTOR ANONYMOUS at the Zephyr Theatre.Based on the production which opened last weekend at the Zephyr Theatre, it turns out this inspired and clever story is the only good thing about Glass’s unwieldy, cumbersome, inauthentic, heavy-handed, transparent script, which is overarched with operatic melodrama. The play, which tries to be so much that it collapses under the weight of its good intentions, isn’t helped by John Henry Davis’s confusing and inappropriate direction, which allows some actors to play characters as grossly offensive stereotypes.

Jonathan Torres, Christopher Frontiero, Kevin Held in DOCTOR ANONYMOUS at the Zephyr Theatre.Richard Sabine portrays with histrionics an obnoxious character, Matthew’s self-loathing patient Dudek, whom we are led to believe strolls around 1972 Philadelphia in full leather-man regalia. Christopher Frontiero is lost as John, a corpulent, effeminate, opera-loving fellow-psychiatrist presented as comic relief, and whom we are led to believe strolls around 1972 Philadelphia in a cute little sailor outfit. Jonathan Torres flounders as an opera-loving Twinkie activist Andrew who is so incompatible with John that their love affair defies logic.

Matt Crabtree and Barry Pearl in DOCTOR ANONYMOUS at the Zephyr TheatreMatt Crabtree fares better as Matthew, but the one-note direction he received—apparently “overwrought”—supersedes any attempt at nuance. As Matthew’s hunky lover, the bartender and in-your-face activist Jake, Kevin Held offers, among the excessive proceedings, a pretense-free performance. Barry Pearl is seasoned enough as Matthew’s shrink Edward to escape the irrational script and direction. Pearl has to rely on some Motel-the-Tailor shtick to overcome his character’s one-dimensionality, but he and Held remain the only unscathed actors.

Jonathan Torres, Christopher Frontiero, Richard Sabine in DOCTOR ANONYMOUS at the Zephyr Theatre.There is no illuminating war of words between psychiatrist and patient during conversion therapy; instead, Matthew is a mouthpiece for victimization. Instead of being about men who happen to be gay in a restrictive era, the play is about restricted gays with little background who talk about their restriction—there is no urgency and surprisingly little context of the times. As if to make up for the absence of time and place in the script, Troy Hauschild’s design of pejorative clips from Laugh-In and other media disparaging gays is projected onto Joel Daavid’s hideously boxy set, which is incapable of delineating playing areas: We never know where we are as the same walnut-veneer box and sparse, ugly furniture represent a bar, offices, an apartment, a rally, and an APA conference (to be fair, this says more about visionless direction than technical design).

Instead of creating a history play which examines the masks we wear to survive, Glass’s graceless attempts leave us with neither Agitprop nor love story. He is such a poor playwright that he even instills the device from the film Stage Door, in which it takes someone’s death for another character to blossom. In the end, the only thing that gets zapped here is the audience.

photos by Ed Krieger

Doctor Anonymous
Gap In The Wall Productions
Zephyr Theatre
7456 Melrose Ave.
scheduled to end on May 4, 2014
for tickets, call (323) 960-7724 or visit www.Plays411.com

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