Theatre Alive’s staged reading series moves on from aging female rage to the changing nature of relationships between gay men as a theme, with a presentation of Gently Down the Stream coming to Mahon Hall on March 18.
The riveting and hilarious reading of Caryl Churchill’s play Escaped Alone in February gave audience members an idea of what this series produced by Chris Humphreys can offer. Great contemporary writing paired with the right cast and director can engage the viewer just as well as a full-blown, off-book production.
Humphreys brought in frequent community theatre collaborators Suzanne Rouger and Scott Merrick for this month’s pick, which he specifically wanted to reflect LGBTQ concerns and is sponsored by DAISSI.
It was Merrick who discovered Martin Sherman’s latest work, which premiered in New York in 2017. He was in the process of reading five scripts with gay-related themes he had ordered when Gently Down the Stream arrived.
“As soon as I started reading it I said ‘This is the one,’” he reported.
According to a synopsis, the play “reflects the triumphs and heartbreaks of the entire length of the gay rights movement, celebrating and mourning the ghosts of the men and women who led the way for equality, marriage and the right to dream.”
It does so primarily through the character Beau, a pianist expat living in London who’s been wounded by his experiences as a gay man in an intolerant world. Things begin to change after Beau meets Rufus, a much younger lawyer with a different worldview, just as internet dating starts to take off in 2001.
“I think this is a good choice,” said Rouger, who directs the performance. “It’s such a beautiful story regardless of who it’s talking about. It’s about humanity and being humane. It’s such a beautiful story of pain and loss, but then of hope as well.’
“And love — lots of love,” Merrick added.
Merrick plays Beau and has found much to relate to in the older man’s journey through things like the gay rights movement and the AIDS crisis. Wasonti:io Adam Morris plays Rufus and island newcomer Wyatt Floerke plays Harry, another young gay man who becomes part of their chosen family group.
A New York Times review of the original production called the play both a romance and a history lesson. Beau’s monologues serve to catalogue some important and terrible markers in the timeline, as well as naming gay icons and activists. The play also offers hope that some things have changed. Rufus and Harry may have benefitted from what others before them have achieved, but their ability to love more openly also helps heal the hurts people like Beau have endured.
Rouger notes the advice often given to writers to be successful is to “write what you know.”
“It’s so supremely evident that Martin Sherman is writing what he knows. The descriptions, the details — he had to have lived it. And the way he talks about how people feel is so dialled in,” Rouger said.
Merrick said it’s a good thing this presentation is a staged reading because there is one monologue he hasn’t been able to make it through without crying yet. But there are also plenty of laughs between the moving passages.
“The other two characters are so young and full of life. They haven’t been through all the things my character’s been through,” Merrick observed. “And Adam and Wyatt are both so good. The two of them are so open-minded about everything.”
“Anyone who has a heart cannot fail to respond,” Rouger said. “They won’t be able to resist falling for these people.”
Audiences are warned the play is not appropriate for children because of its sexual content and coarse language.
Tickets will be available at the door at Mahon Hall.
The show starts at 7 p.m.