nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
August 11, 2007
Howard Walters's new play Chaser is impressive, but at about 50 minutes in length much of its potential remains unrealized. Its hype-y promotional campaign notwithstanding, this is actually a pretty serious and intelligent work about a subject that merits the attention and discussion that Walters gives it. It's also virtually impossible to write meaningfully about it without actually saying what that subject is; Walters has seemed reluctant to give anything away about this work, but since the FringeNYC press people have called this an "AIDS play," I feel comfortable saying that this is a third-generation AIDS play (following As Is/The Normal Heart in the first generation and Angels in America/The Baltimore Waltz in the second).
Now, understand that Chaser is not as accomplished as any of these illustrious predecessors. But it can be if Walters will flesh out its story and fill out its themes, transforming this into the full-length, full-fledged drama that it cries out to be. It takes place on a first date between two gay men. One of them, Val, is a hunky actor who has recently returned from an unsuccessful foray in Los Angeles where he tried to break into films. The other, Dominick, is leaner and more reserved, if more caustic; he works as a fashion consultant. Through a mutual friend, they've hooked up for this date. The first part of the evening seems to have gone well; when we meet them, they've just arrived at Dominick's apartment.
The question of the hour is, will they or won't they? The brittle first half of the play is fraught with foreshadowing: we know that one or the other of these men is about to let loose with the bombshell that will turn this evening upside-down. What's terrific about Walters's writing is that we're off-balance during this scene, uncertain who it's going to be. What's problematic about the writing is how heavily the forthcoming announcement looms over the proceedings: we know it's coming almost as soon as the play starts. A real surprise would...well...surprise us.
However, once we reach Chaser's turning point, and we understand what the play is actually about, things become genuinely compelling. Both of the men turn out to have serious histories and strongly-held convictions and desires. I wanted to know much more about why Val wants what he says he wants here, however; and I wanted more complexity to Dominick's perspective—what's presented here is entirely commonsensical but also, alas, fairly undramatic. I love that Dominick talks about the waning of interest in AIDS in the culture and the media nowadays: he wonders where the red ribbons have gone to, and I thought to myself, how right he is.
I hope Walters will give Val and Dominick the platform they deserve in a richer, fuller incarnation of Chaser. When he does so, he may want to find actors closer in age to his characters (though Jake Alexander as Dominick and especially Wil Petre as Val do fine work in roles they are clearly too young for). Mainly, I hope he and his producer Brandi Bravo and director Shaun Peknic will worry less about hyping their show. Chaser's program and publicity materials are all emblazoned with the slogan "Contains male nudity and scenes of a sexual nature." Not only is this not particularly true (the sex and nudity happen in the dimmest of light and for the briefest of moments), it's not particularly relevant. Walters should want audiences to see Chaser because of what he has to say, not because of how hot his actors look.