Toronto’s Capricorn 9 presents Jeffrey a play set in the ’90s during the AIDS crisis
Jeffery is a play by Paul Rudnick that tells the story of a gay man who has sworn off sex while living in New York amid the AIDS crisis in the ’90s. The script both embraces and defies the stereotypes of gay men at the time. Capricorn 9’s production of Jeffery at Red Sandcastle Theatre has plenty of distractingly rough edges but, at times, it still manages to find the confusion and exuberance of the era.
The show takes place on the small stage at Red Sandcastle Theatre, which is set with a cardboard cut out of the New York skyline in the center. Panels off to the sides are decorated with other pictures of New York from the 1990s.
The play begins with Jeffery (Brandon Nicoletti) in bed with a parade of potential lovers. This is the first time we experience the whole cast on stage at once and it felt overwhelming and crowded in a space as intimate as Red Sandcastle Theatre.
The first moment of the show that landed once the crowd was cleared off the stage was Nicoletti’s first address to the audience. Nicoletti’s Jeffery was, in its best moments, a clumsily honest, Charlie Brown-esque hero. Though he sometimes lost that depth and slipped into melodrama; when he was on top of it I couldn’t help but root for him.
Ray Chaaya, as Steve, was certainly the stand out performance of the evening. His portrayal of a man struggling to be open to life, having been diagnosed HIV positive, deepened in every scene. He had a commendable focus and precision amid a show that could have used more of those qualities in its acting and direction throughout.
Rudnick’s script is both quick witted and compassionate, jumping deftly between moments of hilarious satire to heartfelt comments on the state of a world racked by disease and uncertainty.
While the cast managed to land some of Rudnick’s one-liners with ease, the comedic timing often lagged and the jokes fell flat. Timing in general was problematic; at one moment the show clips along so fast that dialogue was hard to decipher and at another there are long moments of dead space.
My biggest issue with the play was its lack of focus. The scenes that deviated from the main plot lines, whether they were intended to be satirical or just to expand on the reality of New York in the ’90s, seemed extraneous.
My guest, Sofia, had a similar complaint. She felt that many of the scenes didn’t feel connected to the play as a whole, which left the production feeling disjointed.
In my opinion, this is a script that requires a lot of heart. Its subject matter is not always easy to handle. Though at times it plays off stereotypes of gay men, the characters need to be given enough heart to surpass them. Despite any complaints, Capricorn 9’s production was full to the brim with heart, and at times that is all it needs to create some authentically beautiful moments.
- Jeffery is playing until September 5th at Red Sandcastle Theatre
- Shows run August 29th, September 3rd and 4th at 8pm, with matinees on August 30th and September 5th at 2pm.
- Tickets are $20, and are available online or at the door.
Photo of (left to right) Brandon Nicoletti, Rob MacFarlane, Andy Pandoff, Steve Alguire and Nicolas Banks, by Larry Westlake.