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Dominion Stage Jeffrey

By • May 31st, 2009 • Category: Reviews
Jeffrey
Dominion Stage
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.

Photo Gallery

Ensemble J. Ryan McFadden (Contestant 1), Keith J. Miller (Jeffrey), and Matthew Randall (Sterling)
Ensemble
J. Ryan McFadden (Contestant 1), Keith J. Miller (Jeffrey), and Matthew Randall (Sterling)
Gayle Nichols Grimes (Ann Marwood Bartel) Ray Bracken (Darius), Keith J. Miller (Jeffrey), Matthew Randall (Sterling), and Daniel McKay (Steve)
Gayle Nichols Grimes (Ann Marwood Bartel)
Ray Bracken (Darius), Keith J. Miller (Jeffrey), Matthew Randall (Sterling), and Daniel McKay (Steve)
Ray Bracken (Darius) and Matthew Randall (Sterling) Ray Bracken (Darius), Matthew Randall (Sterling), Keith J. Miller (Jeffrey), and Daniel McKay (Steve)
Ray Bracken (Darius) and Matthew Randall (Sterling)
Ray Bracken (Darius), Matthew Randall (Sterling), Keith J. Miller (Jeffrey), and Daniel McKay (Steve)
Keith J. Miller (Jeffrey) and Jessica Sperlongano (Mother Theresa) yle Blake Smythers (Dad), Gayle Nichols-Grimes (Mom) and Keith J. Miller (Jeffrey)
Keith J. Miller (Jeffrey) and Jessica Sperlongano (Mother Theresa)
yle Blake Smythers (Dad), Gayle Nichols-Grimes (Mom) and Keith J. Miller (Jeffrey)
Keith J. Miller (Jeffrey) and Patrick M. Doneghy (Father Dan McGinnis) Daniel McKay (Steve), Richard Isaacs (Sean) and Keith J. Miller (Jeffrey)
Keith J. Miller (Jeffrey) and Patrick M. Doneghy (Father Dan McGinnis)
Daniel McKay (Steve), Richard Isaacs (Sean) and Keith J. Miller (Jeffrey)
Lyle Blake Smythers (Chuck Farley) and Ray Bracken (Darius) with Ensemble
Lyle Blake Smythers (Chuck Farley) and Ray Bracken (Darius) with Ensemble

Cast

  • 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

Crew

  • 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
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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.

One Response »

  1. I just recently went to see Jeffrey this past weekend, and LOVED every minute of the show!

    I brought along my mother who does not go to many shows because she feels as though she does not understand the main concept usually. This was the total opposite case for her Saturday night. She LOVED every minute of the show…we chatted about the show all the way home…how great the director and cast were, the great music throughout the show…even the music during intermission that kept your attention to the lyrics!

    One main discussion that we had on the way home was how differently people deal with disease. Whether the disease have affected them directly or with a family member, close friend etc.

    My mother is a seven year breast cancer survivor, and one main aspect that we both LOVED about the show is that is helps everyone to learn how to deal with the negative aspects of any type of disease. She felt as though the show helped many to see both the negative aspects of the disease, but also the positive.

    Sometimes people run from the disease, some say that “they cannot handle seeing their close friend or family member go through treatments”, but this show really helps make ‘light’ of tough situations that people must face every day.

    It is apparent that my mother and I are both from different generations from the reviewer which may explain the different views on the show. Many generations will not appreciate the ‘hilarity’ of the show because they simply feel as though disease is a negative aspect of someones life and should not be made into a ‘light’ subject.

    I encourage ALL OF YOU to go watch the show….You will literally Laugh Out Loud (LOL!)