Review: Falsettos (Acting Up Stage/Harold Green Jewish Theatre)

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There’s a moment in gay history that I once heard a slam poet describe as “half past herpes and five minutes before AIDS,” – the late seventies, when the Gay Liberation Front was starting to gain some cultural footholds and the stigma of HIV hadn’t yet settled in. It’s this moment in which the first of the two plays of Falsettos presented – in a collaboration between Acting Up Stage and the Harold Green Jewish Theatre – is set, with the second one being set a scant two years later, even though they were written ten years apart. They’re rarely staged as original one acts, since they were later combined into the Broadway musical Falsettos, but this staging offers theatregoers such a lot of both emotion and history in this marvelous co-production.

First, before anything, I must commend the cast and musical director Reza Jacobs for the musical performances in this show. When even the little kid (Michael Levinson, playing 12-year-old Jason) has a Broadway-quality voice, a great deal more becomes possible in a show where few lines are spoken. Jacobs has the cast well-rehearsed and singing at the top of their games, with frequent close-harmony work and deft phrasing among the various dancing about. I have learned to be relatively forgiving about both vocal quality and arrangements in this job, but none of my usual ease was required. The music was spectacular, and when you consider the relative size of the production and the budgets the accomplishment reaches nearly into the category of miraculous. So satisfying.

The plays themselves are complicated. In the first, Marvin (played by Stratford vet Stephen Patterson) comes out to his wife Trina (Glynis Ranney) and their son, announcing his intention to set up housekeeping with his new lover the preternaturally hunky Whizzer (Eric Morin), but he expresses his deep desire for them to become a close family. This does not really work out as he planned, and here’s where the ten-year-gap between the writing of the plays becomes clear – the characters talk a lot about family in the first act, but they’re a little bit talking at each other. They like the idea of family. But there’s no real connectedness in the conversation, everyone’s too busy pursuing their own goals: Marvin wants to feel liberated, Trina wants to be respectable, Whizzer wants to be cared for, Mendel (Darrin Baker) wants to score with Trina, and Jason wants his dad not to be gay. It’s buzzing and chaotic and no one even takes the time to disagree – they just keep shouting their own truth, louder and louder. The cast really takes this on, and delivers it with a note-perfect accuracy that’s slightly grating.

But don’t leave. Stay and see what they settle into. Ten years certainly improved playwright William Finn’s craft, and it shows here, but the actors also really understand how these two connected one-acts should be presented. In the second half, they are a family – they scrap and make up, they care for each other even when they’re annoyed, and so on. The degree to which the cast found this in the work, even to the point of being physically closer in onstage conversations with one another, was truly heartening. Director Robert McQueen clearly took some time marking out all the signifiers the second play contains about family, and it really shows. Close, connected, and lovely.

There’s more, but I don’t want to spoil the joy of discovery. See this.

Details

  • Falsettos plays at the Daniels Spectrum Theatre, 585 Dundas E until May 12
  • Performances at 8pm Wednesday through Saturday, with 7pm performances on Tuesday and Sunday and 2pm matinees on Sundays only.
  • Tickets range from $31-$55 and can be had by phone at 1-800-838-3006 or online through Brown Paper Tickets