One Seat in the Shade
nytheatre.com review by Alyssa Simon
August 11, 2008
One Seat in the Shade, written by John Reoli, is a comedy about a gay couple coming to terms with the possible end of their 27-year relationship, infidelity, and the indignities of growing older and less desirable. It is also about being a survivor, a part of a generation that lost so many friends and loved ones to AIDS, who fought and struggled for legal rights, endured ostracism from family and society, and ultimately made more social acceptance and tolerance for gay people my age and younger a reality. Did I mention it's a comedy? It is, and a very funny one too.
Randall (Cash Tilton) and Scott (Dan Lane Williams) are vacationing in southern Spain. Along with taking in sights like a bullfight and a doll factory tour, they are also there to work on their relationship. At least Scott wants to. Randall seems smitten with Todd, a 22-year old man who wasn't even born when Randall and Scott started dating. "What do you have to talk about?" Scott pleads. "Stuff," Randall replies. We can only imagine what that stuff might be, assuming it's mere sexual obsession with a young man. Indeed, at this point Scott seems so sweetly bewildered and Randall so dismissive to the point of deliberate cruelty, that I wanted Scott to just leave and say good riddance. But all is not as it seems. Like any relationship that we see from the outside at first, the dynamics and our opinions change as we get to know the people involved.
In the middle of one of their arguments, there is a knock at the door. Jeff (Austin Mitchell), another guest at the hotel, coincidentally 22, is stranded by his parents after a fight, he says. He saw Randall and Scott in the lobby, recognized them as a gay couple and, being gay himself, is looking to them for help. Scott is inclined to listen and give the young man advice; Randall is way more cynical and takes him for a male prostitute looking to hustle them. Nevertheless, they take Jeff in and invite him to a bullfight and dinner.
Now it gets complicated. Without giving any surprises away, let's just say everything turns around and characters are not as they appear to be. This leads me to my only issue with the play. Randall and Scott both talk about losing their friends to AIDS more than once. There is also an extremely interesting discussion about bullfighting as a metaphor for man's struggle with death and trying to control the inevitable end that comes to all, which brings them back to discussing AIDS. But in a short while, we see two characters who don't know each other's sexual history have unprotected anal sex and not one word is spoken about it afterward. Well, the sex is talked about, but not the lack of condoms. It's not that it happens that I question, it's that it wasn't even discussed.
The acting is wonderful, true, and very funny. The ensemble is great, including playwright Reoli as a surprise character named Bradley, but special mention must be made of Tilton's portrayal of Randall. He has created a character who is cynical, shrewd while at the same time vulnerable, and a truly deep thinker under a thick layer of campy bravado. His comic timing and command of the stage is spot-on. Bruce Ornstein's direction keeps the pace moving and lively while allowing for tender moments and truthfulness. I enjoyed watching this production and recommend it for its laughs and thoughtfulness both.