Dominion Stage JeffreyBy Joe Adcock • May 31st, 2009 • Category: Reviews
Gunston Arts Center Theater One, Arlington, VA
$17/$15 Seniors and Students
Playing through June 13th
Reviewed May 30, 2009
It’s hard to put in a good word for the AIDS epidemic that hit the US in the late 20th Century. But one such word would be “theater.” What a lot of good plays came out of that era!
The catalog ranges widely, including Larry Kramer’s docu-drama The Normal Heart and Tony Kushner’s cosmic epic Angels in America. One of the 1990’s oddest AIDS plays was Jeffrey, a romantic sex farce with sober undertones.
The current Dominion Stage revival of Jeffrey is heavy on undertones and light on farce. Director Scott Olson emphasizes poignancy at the expense of hilarity.
The poignancy is there, yes. But Jeffrey is basically a screwball comedy, a one-joke screwball comedy at that. The title character is freaked by AIDS. He decides to forgo sex entirely. That leads to comic complications.
Death and disease, loss and sorrow, cast shadows over the action. But mostly, Jeffrey is a guy who wants sex and also doesn’t want it. As the celebrated Broadway director George Abbott pointed out, there are three things that are required for a successful production of comedy: pace, pace and pace. Also essential are bright lighting and bold, clear diction.
Unfortunately, director Olson’s production is often slow, dimly lit and softly spoken.
Some of the acting, however, carries conviction. Matthew Randall, as a older man who loses his young boyfriend to AIDS, creates a character that is both touching and witty. Daniel McKay as an HIV-positive man who wants to hook up with Jeffrey is peppy, though McKay sometimes seems to be acting in a void. There is little perceptible chemistry between him and Keith J. Miller, who, as Jeffrey, concentrates on exasperation and anguish. His character’s much-discussed frustration is devoid of erotic energy.
One asset that any production of Jeffrey has going for it is snappy dialogue by Paul Rudnick, who’s screen credits include The Addams Family and In and Out. One example: The older man says his young boyfriend is “like a pet that feeds and walks itself.” Some of Rudnick’s wit, however, is blurred at Dominion Stage by hushed speaking. And in a party scene, loud music drowns out witty dialogue.
The most positive element of seeing Jeffrey in 2009, however, has nothing to do with particular qualities of staging or acting. No, the play’s main asset is a sense of relief. AIDS is still with us. But that fierce devastation of the 1980s and 90s is gone. And the stalwart veterans of the AIDS struggle are claiming one of the standard rewards for bravery. Like Irish American veterans of World War I and African American Veterans of World War II, veterans of the AIDS battlefields have energized the struggle for full citizens’ rights for an oppressed minority.
- Jeffrey: Keith J. Miller
- Steve/Man #6: Daniel McKay
- Sterling: Matthew Randall
- Darius/Man #4: Ray Bracken
- Don/Tim/Fr. Dan/Man #2/Waiter in Headdress: Patrick M. Doneghey
- Ann/Debra/Mom/Mrs. Marcangelo: Gayle Nichols-Grimes
- Man #1/Gym/Chaps/Thug #2/Boss/Debra #2/Sean: Richard Isaacs
- Skip/Angelique: Mark Lewis
- Man #3/Gym/Salesman/Debra #1/Jockstrap/Thug #1: J. Ryan McFadden
- Casting Dir/Dad/Fr. Julian/Chuck: Lyle Blake Smythers
- Woman/Show Girl/Mother Theresa/Sharon: Jessica Sperlongano
- Producer: Theresa Bender
- Director: Scott Olson
- Stage Manager: Bob Pierce
- Assistant Stage Managers: Jes Decker, Melissa York-Tilley
- Choreography: Patrick Doneghey
- Fight Choreography: Steve Lada
- Set and Painting Design, Master Carpenter: Jarett Baker
- Set Construction: Jes Decker, Hector Lorenzini
- Painting Crew: Theresa Bender, Hector Lorenzini
- Lighting: Jeffrey S. Auerbach
- Sound Design: Ben Allen
- Music Design: Peggy Jones, Jerry Jones
- CostumeDesign: Larissa Norris
- “Cats” Costume: Joan A.S. Lada
- Properties Design: Pat Jannell
- Crew Chief: Jim Callery
- Run Crew: Jim Callery, Jim Vincent, Robert King, Angelo Mike
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/3846.
Joe Adcock lives in Arlington with his wife, daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren. Before retiring last year at age 70, he was theater critic at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for 27 years. Prior to that, he reviewed plays for the Philadelphia Bulletin, the Texas Observer and the Swarthmore College Phoenix. Non-reviewing journalistic jobs include writing for the Houston Chronicle, the San Juan (Puerto Rico) Star and El Mundo de San Juan. Think about it: most of the papers he worked for no longer exist. Maybe this internet gig has better longevity prospects.