PN 1923. 45 LS01 Volume 2 (The Book Play)
nytheatre.com review by Amy Lerner
August 19, 2007
History happens in the sub-basement of the San Francisco Public Library, at least in Bixby Elliot's play PN1923.45 LS01 Volume 2 [The Book Play]. The play begins as a straightforward look at the relationships made and broken in the lonely sub-basement, and then transforms into an examination of the history of homosexuality from the 1950s to the present.
The play jumps back and forth in time, telling the stories of two couples: Brad and Jonathan, a gay couple during the 1980s, and Madeleine and Laurence, a couple during the 1950s. Each couple is not without problems: Brad is interested in speaking out for gay rights, while Jonathan still fears criticism from the outside. Madeleine is afraid of being an old maid, while Laurence is closeted. Harry, an older gentleman in a wheelchair wearing beads and blue eyeliner, serves as the glue holding the stories together as a man speaking out for gay rights.
For the first half of the play, the story is linear and well-told. Elliot writes very convincing, honest dialogue and does an excellent job of distinguishing the time periods through language. The costume design by Carrmen Wrenn also does a nice job of distinguishing between the time periods. The direction by Stephen Brackett also makes this production top-notch, and smoothes out the transitions by having the actors still interact in character during set changes. This was the most professional FringeNYC show I've seen, both in the quality of the technical design and the performances.
The acting in PN1923.45 LS01 Volume 2 [The Book Play] is stellar, especially within the two couples. James Ryan Caldwell as Jonathan does an excellent job of revealing the secret behind his character's commitment-phobic attitudes in a perfectly played monologue. Yuval Boim as his boyfriend Brad is also convincing at revealing the heartache in the relationship. Chad Heoppner is solid as Laurence, but doesn't truly shine until the later portion of the show when he has the opportunity to explore the hidden desires within his character. Everett Quinton does a nice job with some tough material; as Harry, he brings the right amount of humor and desperation to his monologues.
A standout in the cast is Marguerite Stimpson as Madeleine. She perfectly conveys the attitudes and behavior of the 1950s, and has a terrific commitment to her role. She practically glows onstage, especially in her interactions with Laurence. Even when the play became more ridiculous in its conceit, she stays true to character.
The second half of PN1923.45 LS01 Volume 2 [The Book Play] becomes more messy and feels gimmicky. Suddenly, all of the characters, despite time period, are able to interact with each other. This section climaxes with all of the characters intertwined; and then all of a sudden the play goes back to its earlier structure. What was an examination of homosexuality throughout time changes tone and becomes more of a sermon on speaking out for gay rights. It becomes confusing to watch, and when it lost its focus, it lost my attention and its capacity for telling a truthful story.
The beginning, though, is engaging to watch and makes for a thoughtful experience. Had Elliot continued down his earlier path, this might have been a more fulfilling play. The performances, however, make for an interesting evening of theatre. The past and present of homosexuality, especially when contrasting 1951 with 1981, is a fascinating subject and one well chosen for the stage, I only wish that Elliot had chosen to focus on the heart of the stories he provided.