THE BASICS: BRIGHT COLORS AND BOLD PATTERNS, a recent off-Broadway one-man comedy by Drew Droege, presented by Buffalo United Artists, directed by Carly Weiser, starring James Cichocki, runs through October 5, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 at the Alleyway Cabaret, 672 Main Street (entrance faces Main) (886-9239) www.buffalounitedartists.org Runtime: 75 minutes without intermission
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Josh and Brennan are about to get married in Palm Springs on a lovely Saturday afternoon. However, the night before turns into a drunken, coked-up scream riot because one of the guests, Gerry, while driving out from Los Angeles alone, has been working himself into a snit all along Highway I-10 about a stipulation on the expensively printed wedding invitation which reads: “Please refrain from wearing bright colors or bold patterns.” In other words: “Don’t be too gay.” Being a one-man show, we never actually meet either Josh or Brennan, and while we never see them, we know about Gerry’s former boyfriend Duane, Duane’s new Speedo-wearing boy toy, Mack, and another of Duane’s former boyfriends, Neal, as they all meet poolside. Awkward? You bet, and that’s just part of the fun.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: There are plays about the violence committed towards the LGBTQ community such as THE LARAMIE PROJECT or STOP KISS or THE ABSOLUTE BRIGHTNESS OF LEONARD PELKEY.
But then there are plays whose “gay agenda” seems to be to just portray, on stage, what it’s like to be gay, such as STEVE or the granddaddy of them all, 1968’s (one year before Stonewall!) ground-breaking off-Broadway play by Mart Crowley, THE BOYS IN THE BAND. At the 2019 Tony Awards honoring the 50th-anniversary revival, Crowley said: “I’d like to dedicate this award to the original cast of nine brave men who did not listen to their agents when they were told their careers would be finished if they did this play.”
One of the great things about theater is that it can represent on stage those in the audience who yearn to see their story told.
And that brings us to today, where BRIGHT COLORS AND BOLD PATTERNS in 2019, far from being a career killer for James Cichocki, will be a career boost for the the actor who said after the play, in his usual self-deprecating way, “Do you believe this? Up until now, I’ve always been cast as ‘the best friend’ but I’ve never been the star of a show.” Well, he is a star, commanding the stage for 75 minutes, in conversation with three other (invisible to the audience) characters, and getting it just right.
And, whether on Facebook, in person, or on stage following each performance, he warmly thanks Carly Weiser, who directed for the first time (great job, by the way) and who also stage-managed, as she has done for BUA and Alleyway for the past four years. They designed the set and the costumes and came up with the music and the lighting. James and Carly are a winning team.
While a light-hearted comedy, BRIGHT COLORS AND BOLD PATTERNS raises some serious questions. Yes, all citizens should have equal rights, but just because everyone is equal in the eyes of the law, do we all have to conform to some equal standard of dress and behavior? Does “equality” mean that some people can’t be more fabulous than others? As Gerry complains in the play: “We’re all in a race towards normal. I don’t want to be normal!”
And just because the Supreme Court says that same-sex couples CAN get married, should they all WANT to get married? Gerry is very worried that his creative, artistic friend Josh, who used to make wonderfully inventive Halloween costumes, is about to be married to the more conservative Brennan “for the rest of his life” – a line he spits out as if he’s pronouncing a prison sentence – living with a man who dresses like an investment banker. “There are lots of colors in the rainbow; khaki ain’t one of them.”
Assimilation is obviously a hot button issue for Gerry.
Some history here (not part of the play): Back in 1965, four years before Stonewall, homosexuals marching in Washington were strictly told by the organizers, the Mattachine Society, to wear jackets and ties. If you look at photos from that era, you can’t tell the difference between marchers protesting for gay rights or civil rights because everybody had crew cuts, white shirts, and ties. And no holding hands.
In a recent New York Times article recalling the first New York Pride March contributor Andrew Solomon writes that today Pride Parades across the country and around the world “mark the fact that gay people exist in numbers, [and] provide documentary evidence that we have more fun and are more fabulous than anyone else….But Pride was not always so unabashedly celebratory; for a long time, it was a radical assault on mainstream values, a means to defy the belief that homosexuality was a sin, an illness and a crime, that gay people were subhuman…This was serious business.”
“Don’t be too gay” is a story that’s repeated elsewhere, for example in the Supreme Court case which overturned DOMA (the Defense Of [straight] Marriage Act). As reported by Ariel Levy in The New Yorker “When [attorney Roberta Kaplan] took on [Edith] Windsor’s case, pro bono, she made some rules for her client. For example, Kaplan [who is a lesbian herself] instructed Windsor not to talk publicly about sex—a subject on which Windsor is exceptionally colorful and voluble. ‘All I needed was Antonin Scalia reading about Edie and Thea’s butch-femme escapades,’ Kaplan told Levy.”
And so it goes.
Gerry, despite some questionable choices about drinking and drugging, is certainly on the right path when he questions what gives people the right, even friends inviting him to a wedding, to tell him what to wear or, in other words, just “how gay” he’s allowed to be.
UP NEXT FOR BUA: Coming November 1st, THE BOYS UPSTAIRS, a comedy by Jason Mitchell described on the New Play Exchanges as “Sex, Dating, Friendship, and all the blurry lines in between… A funny, sweet, raunchy riff on ‘Sex and the City’ for gay twenty-somethings. Full of laughs, heart, and lovable characters” to be directed by Todd Fuller.
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!