Accidentally, Like a Martyr
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
December 16, 2011
Grant James Varjas's new play Accidentally, Like a Martyr examines the lives of several gay men of a certain age, as they interact in a small neighborhood bar whose early evening crowd, at least, tends to be old enough to remember all too well the happy/sad epoch, decades ago, of disco and AIDS. The press release notes that the play hearkens back to a couple of works from even before that—Mart Crowley's The Boys in the Band (whose bitchy sniping is definitely an integral part of this piece) and Tennessee Williams's Small Craft Warnings (from which Varjas has borrowed/adapted the idea of a confessional area on stage—in this case the bar's back room, where one character remembers events from a few years ago that changed everything for him).
The idea behind this play is commendable, and the work itself hits some interesting notes as it progresses. The main characters are Edmund, a writer who has just completed his newest book after a long period of being blocked; Brendan, a former cop with a serious drug problem; Jeffery, the bartender; and Charles, a caustic loner who drinks grasshoppers while offering cutting commentary of what's going on around him. All of these men convey a sadness and aloneness that makes them difficult company, however; I kept wishing for some other attributes to emerge—especially in the case of Charles—that would provide some balance and make it easier for me to empathize.
A newcomer to the bar tonight is catalyst for the plot, such as it is: his name is Mark, and he confides in Edmund that he was the longtime partner of another man who used to be a regular at this very bar. Mark has been grieving since his partner's death but has recently tried to push himself back into the world of the living, and in fact has come here to meet up with a mysterious guy he met on the internet.
Mark's story is intriguing and was the one that most interested me, at least in part because Mark is the character who seems most hopeful. (Jeffery, who is mostly sour and snappish with his regulars, is surprisingly not the upbeat anchor that I expected him to be.)
Varjas has directed the play on a set by Clilfton Chadick that lets us see the bar and its denizens from the perspective of a fly on the wall right behind Jeffery, which is an unusual and successful choice. The cast, headed by Varjas himself as Brendan, includes Keith McDermott as Charles, Chuck Blasius as Edmund, Cameron Pow as Mark, and Brett Douglas as Jeffery, all of whom create believable characters (though they all seemed under-rehearsed at the preview I attended). Accidentally, Like a Martyr—which mostly takes place on December 22, 2011, which is to say, a few days after it's official opening night—is poignant, pensive holiday fare, a bit more downbeat that I prefer.