nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
February 5, 2008
The central relationship in Claymont, Kevin Brofsky's play that is part of Emerging Artist Theatre's Triple Threat series this year, involves Neil, a high school senior who desperately wants to study art at Berkeley next year, and Dallas, a couple of years older, just expelled from Temple University and desperate to avoid the draft. The year is 1969; the place is the small town of Claymont, Delaware (a real place, about five miles from Wilmington).
Neil is very much a loner—he's gay, Jewish, artistic, and generally misunderstood by pretty much everybody around him, particularly his art teacher, a narrow-minded petty autocrat named Mr. Ramsey. Dallas is a breath of fresh air in his sheltered life, encouraging Neil to make his art and awakening in him—though Dallas doesn't realize it—the first glimmerings of sexual feeling; indeed, it's not long before Neil's infatuation turns into head-over-heels love. Outside circumstances intervene to test the relationship pretty severely. When the play is over, we are meant to believe, though, that both young men will be the better for having known each other.
I wanted to like Claymont, but the story is painted in such broad strokes that I ultimately found myself frustrated by it. When we first meet Neil he's vacuuming the living room, loudly singing "I'm the Greatest Star" from Funny Girl. (He vacuums in another scene, this time doing a pretty accurate re-creation of Streisand's "My Man".) When his Yiddish-spouting, couch-potato-kvetch of a grandmother wants to make small talk with him, he tells her that Streisand is going to star in the film of Hello, Dolly. Does Neil really need to be such a budding show queen?
Dallas has apparently been expelled because police found drugs in his room, drugs that he swears were planted there. But his parents don't believe him and his father, who is in the Army, has essentially thrown him out of the house; this is why Dallas comes to live in Neil's family's basement and become "big brother" to impressionable Neil. Dallas has no source of income and no prospects; yet somehow or other we're meant to believe that his ex-girlfriend Sharon (whom he broke up with long ago) is desperate to marry him. Dallas does have principles: "I don’t want to throw away my life on some Imperialistic war," he says in the play's only truly resonant scene. Yet we never see him do anything substantive in the play; some definitive action on his part in some area of his troubled life would go a long way toward letting us understand why people like Neil and Sharon admire him so much.
And does Dallas really need to have a (rear) nude scene at the end of Act One?
The play has received a careful, loving mounting from EAT. Derek Jamison's staging feels a bit slow-moving, especially during the inter-scene transitions, which go on far longer than set changes seem to require. The women in the cast give performances that hover near sitcom over-the-top-ness, but the two young men who play the characters at the story's center are sympathetic and effective: Jason Hare is very convincingly 18, and Stephen Sherman shows us Dallas's conflicted, gently maturing nature.
But overall, I had trouble getting into the world of Claymont; though its plot and theme have the potential to be sweet and touching, the details that flesh it out never quite feel believable or compelling.