nytheatre.com review by Jason Jacobs
August 20, 2010
There is an informative introduction to the gay rights movement relayed in Patricia Loughrey's Dear Harvey, a documentary play that comes to FringeNYC from San Diego's Diversionary Theatre. Based on interviews with people who knew Harvey Milk, or who reflect on his impact on their lives, the narrative recounts Milk's ascent from grass roots activist to his election as the first openly gay official in the United States. It also describes the aftermath of his assassination by Dan White and postulates about Milk's legacy in San Francisco and nationally. If you've read about Milk or seen any of the films or plays about his life, this show may feel more like a refresher course than a new perspective.
The script—composed entirely of direct address monologues—tells how charismatic, inspiring, and loving Milk was. Campaign manager Anne Kronenberg, activist Cleve Jones, and California Assembly Member Tom Ammiano are among the individuals who spoke to Loughrey about Milk's galvanizing influence on them and on the gay rights movement as a whole. Many of these people went on to effect change and fight for gay liberation after Milk's untimely death—Jones's founding of the AIDS quilt is perhaps the most visible legacy of Milk's impact. A slide show provides visual tribute to the out politicians who followed in Milk's footsteps. Occasionally Loughrey offers a glimpse of detail that feels more personal—such as drag queen Nicole Murray Ramirez urging Milk to get a haircut in order to get elected. But overall, the play reveres Milk as the leader of a movement without painting a tangible portrait of the man.
Dan Kirsch directs the show with a uniform tone of sincerity, reinforced by Thomas Hodges's uplifting music. We've seen how documentary can become theatrical when actors like Anna Deavere Smith or members of Tectonic Theater Project embody their subjects and conjure a visceral presence of real people onstage. But Kirsch allows his actors to recite with a generic tone of respect and cheeriness, occasionally accented by the slightest characterization. When Mark Peters delivers Milk's impassioned call-to-action against the Briggs Proposition (an attempt to illegalize gay teachers in California), his smile and calm voice belie the fire of Milk's objective. Comparisons to Gandhi and Martin Luther King may well be deserved, but I wish a play about Milk could help me feel his passion, rather than just describe it.
At the end of the show, Hodges steps away from his keyboard to express his gratitude for Milk's impact on his own life. Youthful and soft-spoken, Hodges brings a simple directness that feels real and meaningful, and showing Milk's legacy on today's young LGBTQ population offers a potential new approach to this material. For people who have not been exposed to films like Gus Van Sant's Milk or The Times of Harvey Milk, this show may provide a valuable history lesson; personally, I look forward to a fresher recipe for my next serving of Milk.