by Brian Scott lipton
As Bob Dylan wrote over 50 years ago, the times they are a changin.’ If the first question you might have asked a gay person three decades ago was “Are you sick?,” the list has expanded considerably: “Are you married?,” “Do you have kids?,”“Do you still sleep with other people even if you’re married?,” even “How do you identify?” If for some reason you aren’t aware of this societal evolution, Jordan Harrison is here to remind you, none-too-subtly, in “Log Cabin,” now premiering at Playwrights Horizons.
Yes, Harrison often explores his subject with both humor and humanity, but even award-winning director Pam McKinnon can’t help having the play feel more like a college lecture than a fully-realized exploration of the dilemmas faced by gay people today. (The work is set from 2012 until 2017.)
Set mostly inside a spectacular Brooklyn apartment (rather ridiculously over-designed by Allen Moyer), the play focuses primarily on two mixed-race couples who spend a lot of time together: Ezra (Jesse Tyler Ferguson, showing off his impressive comic timing), a successful magazine writer, and Chris (the excellent Phillip James Brannon), and Jules (a too-brittle Dolly Wells) and Pam (the mostly monosyllabic if effective Cindy Cheung), a Wall Street wiz. It’s symptomatic of Harrison’s interest in ideas over all else that we never understand how or why Ezra and Jules are BFFs or what Jules or Chris even do for a living (if anything). In fact, the best reason to believe why they hang out so much is what the foursome most have in common is self-absorption.
That trait, however, is even more pronounced in Henry (Ian Harvie) – who has transitioned from being Helen (Ezra’s high-school bestie) – and who arrives for a dinner party one evening with his seemingly-free spirited girlfriend Myna (an amusing Talene Monahan) and a chip on his shoulder larger than the Rock of Gibraltar. Henry harangues the rest of the room about how the larger world doesn’t accept trans people, refuses to see him as an actual male, and even how a transperson faces more prejudice from society than an African-American male like Chris. While the message may be valid, the messenger is so obnoxious that it’s unsurprising that the party starts to rival a scene out of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
Moreover, his rude behavior, coupled by another action taken by Henry that night (which I won’t divulge), should ensure that he should disappear from these couples’ lives. Instead, in a rather convoluted plot twist, he becomes an integral thread in their daily fabric. (Yes, Harvie does makes Henry less annoying as the evening progresses, but I am still not buying a second of this storyline!)
Then again, Harrison clearly isn’t interested in making the audience feel comfortable. Take the rather ridiculous, and borderline offensive, scene in which Chris and Ezra act out a rather peculiar role-play fantasy (which they’ve previously discussed, making the actual moment redundant). Meanwhile, the two scenes where both women imagine fully adult conversations with their young son (also played by Harvie), who has been specifically identified as completely non-verbal, are less upsetting than just jarring. (A final scene, in which two children, including the women’s son, converse about the future works better, even if its main purpose is to hammer home Harrison’s final message.)
Oh, yeah, there’s also the title. Because of their wealth, we might imagine that some of these characters are Republicans (aka “log cabin Republicans”), but then Harrison throws in a scene on the night of Donald Trump’s election that appears to contradict that assumption. So what exactly does the title mean? I wish Harrison had answered that question rather than spending 90 minutes asking such obvious ones!
Photos: Joan Marcus
Log Cabin continues at Playwrights Horizons (412 West 42nd Street) through July 15. Call 212-279-4200 for tickets.