Chicago Theater Review: ACCIDENTALLY, LIKE A MARTYR (A Red Orchid Theatre)

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by Lawrence Bommer on January 24, 2015

in Theater-Chicago


In only 80 minutes, Grant James Barjas’s Accidentally, Like a Martyr assembles the very actual denizens of an obscure, unnamed gay bar on Manhattan’s East Side—and makes them matter. This Chicago premiere from A Red Orchid Theatre, pointedly staged by Shade Murray, delivers all the fleeting gay intimacies and enmities of Small Craft Warnings and Boys in the Band, plays that divide and conquer their forlorn inmates. The barroom set, meticulously detailed by John Holt, inevitably suggests The Time of Your Life and The Iceman Cometh.


What anchors the action is the sheer neediness of Barjas’s seven characters, mostly middle-aged homosexuals hoping to escape the invisibility they endure at trendier watering places. Inevitably, these sad survivors lurch from drinking-to-forget to hoping-to-succeed. Seldom have mourning and merriment so trenchantly fed on each other. This is a setting—and a play—where no emotion can go unchallenged, for better or for worse. Ultimately, this outing is more than a succession of random encounters.


It’s December 22 but the holiday spirit is not in the air. No-nonsense bartender Jeffrey (hunky Dominique Worsley) presides over the usual suspects, resigned regulars and the assorted irregulars who keep it real. Lonely but not dead yet—and aging as elegantly as the culture permits—Edmund (defensively wise Troy West) is known as the “Disco Nazi” because he fills up the juke box with blasts from his past. He manages to say the right things at the right time; no question, that’s one of life’s greater triumphs.


Edmund cattily spars with another bar fixture, bored and bitchy Charles (dry and devastating Doug Vickers). This lonely imbiber is not so secretly mourning the lost lover who makes unthinkable any sexual violations of his memory (as if the Buddha-shaped Charles would garner attention). A self-made troll, Charles has given up on happiness—which makes him evilly eager to mess up other people’s wishes for fulfillment. Confusing honesty with slander, he rails against young people full of disrespect, and straight-acting gays full of self-loathing. He’s never less pleasant than when he’s correct. Because he dreads going home to a disapproving dad at death’s door, he’s content to marinate in “a bar that acts my age.”


Into their eccentric midst bursts Brendan (volatile Layne Manzer), a debadged cop now part-time security guard and full-time cokehead. He’s a master of awkward flirting, almost as if by daring himself to fail he can always succeed. Flashbacks depict his relationship with Scott (well-grounded David Cerda), a drunk who died five years ago in a taxicab—and who’s destined this night not to be forgotten. Brendan scurries around, trying to avoid either being kicked out for his own kind of gay bashing or shaken down by his supplier J (a menacing, young Luce Metrius).

Finally, we meet Mark (attractive Steve Haggard, delivering a truck of emotional goods), a younger newbie looking for a sweet guy he met online. Mark’s arrival piques their curiosity and, strangely and winningly, manages to connect them.


In Lanford Wilson-style, these desultory, blackout-quick encounters are, of course, the plot. Bittersweet with thwarted longing (very much in the vein of Tennessee Williams), they’re much less hilarious than some in the audience wanted: They’re too real to need a laugh track. Indeed, one fumbling attempt at affection passing as romance is very moving. It confers an unsought dignity on, as the title implies, Varjas’s accidental martyrs.

photos by Michael Brosilow

Accidentally, Like a Martyr
A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells Ave.
Thurs-Sat at 8; Sun at 3
ends on March 1, 2015 EXTENDED to March 15, 2015
for tickets, call 312.943.8722 or visit

for more info on Chicago Theater, visit

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