A PERFECT EVENING AT THE THEATER
Terry Ray and Mel England in a special performance of "ELECTRICITY" at the Palm Springs Cultural Arts Center Wednesday night.
by Adrian Christian
There was a time when plays about gay relationships were relegated to camp and frothy thrills. Watching gay characters often meant seeing them doomed for punishment, unhappiness or terminal illness.
Enter Electricity, directed by Steve Rosenbaum and written by Terry Ray who also plays one of the two protagonists along with Mel England. Ray is Gary Henderson, a man who was bullied back in high school and finds a protective shield by living his adulthood as a conservative Republican who voted for Ronald Reagan.
England plays the self-assured and confident Brad, who wasn't out in high school, but has gotten through life by proclaiming his gayness as a badge of honor yet sees men as conquests rather than as human interaction. Sound familiar? That's the point. Electricity is meant to show us where we've been, if not just who we were. It's a mirror.
The action begins after a 10-year high school reunion in Ohio in 1983, at the height of the AIDS crisis, and Brad brings out the truth about Gary in a motel room which becomes the haven for which their relationship builds over time. Every ten years, to be exact. What follows are a series of revelations, confessions, and yes, that "L" word, Love. The use of the high school reunion is a clever one, as it is the time we analyze ourselves, but with dialogue that's written with heart and wit, and a sensitive hand by director Rosenbaum, it is never contrived.
As in life, each character is not who we think they are. Instead of creating a slice of one era in a relationship, we get a broader timeline to further comprehend why we, as gay men, navigated through adulthood the way we did. Electricity is not only a love story; it's a moving story of self-love, of what we deserve, and it forces us to look at ourselves. It begs the universal question, are we capable of love, and, what will our lives mean after all?
There is no question as to why Electricity has generated a following since its inception over 7 years ago when it premiered in Los Angeles before making its way through Columbus, Ohio and Minneapolis, St. Paul to the recent record-breaking incarnation in Palm Springs. On this evening, this taped production is a precursor to an up and coming Off-Broadway run where it is destined to be.
Pictured (L to R): writer Sudi Rick Karatas, actor Mel England, playwright-actor Terry Ray and actor-singer Adrian Christian at the Palm Springs Cultural Arts Center.
Photo by John Robertson
Electricity is not only a love story, it's a moving story of self-love, of what we deserve, and it forces us to look at ourselves. It begs the universal question, are we capable of love, and, what will our lives mean after all?
Historically speaking, there have been obstacles for gay men in a homophobic world, and although that is continually changing, the current political climate has brought these issues to light once again. The unique way in which love between two people is expressed in this piece is brutally honest. Terry Ray's writing is masterful: it is clear how the story first builds through genuine laughs (Gary's reference to his wife named Mary Ann is hilarious) and then takes a turn to reflect inward. It's the play we all needed, gay or straight, to understand one another better. It's a gift to this world, honestly. Beyond the writing, Terry Ray plays the fumbling, awkwardly closeted gay man with true conviction and commitment. He not only knows the character, he knows us. And the soul comes through. Mel England's portrayal of Brad is who we all wanted to be, and in the end told us who we really were, and perhaps, are. His performance transcends sexuality. It was really about bravery. It is a first-rate characterization with real presence. So much so, that as an audience when we rooted for him, we were also rooting for ourselves. Both performances were incredibly touching.
When Harvey Fierstein wrote and performed Torch Song Trilogy in 1981, it was considered groundbreaking, just as La Cage Aux Folles was. By the dawn of the millennium, plays with gay characters were popping up in Off-Broadway houses in New York, including one entitled Boys (written and performed by yours truly). Terry Ray's Electricity embodies the evolution of self-acceptance more effectively than I ever did in my plays, and the result breaks new ground in conveying what gays endured over four decades to find true love. It is not only my hope for its bright future, but my prediction Electricity will stand side by side in history with those Pulitzer Prize winners beyond Off-Broadway.
New York Days: Kelly Morast, Adrian Christian and Bill Penna in the Off-Broadway comedy Boys at the Phil Bosakowski/Primary Stages Theatre on 45th Street during its premiere back in 1999.
Photo by Nigel Teare