It is always nice to see new theatre companies debut in San Diego, especially since a couple of “old reliables” have stopped producing, either temporarily or permanently. It’s also nice when the new theatre’s “calling card” production turns out to be both provocative and well-produced.
For its initial production Loud Fridge Theatre Group has gained the rights to Drew Fornarola and Scott Elmegreen’s play, Straight, which had an off-Broadway run in 2016. It’s a play about either sexual confusion or sexual enlightenment – take your pick. I read it as a play about sexual confusion.
Ben (John Wells III) is a 26-year-old who works in investment banking. He’s been dating Emily (Arielle Siler), a doctoral student in Bioinformatics for several years. He’s also been recently seeing Chris (Bryce Gerson), a 20-year-old undergraduate, who he met via a gay dating app.
Ben has his own apartment. Emily lives separately, with a roommate, as does Chris. Both Emily and Chris come and go from Ben’s apartment with some regularity. Clearly, Ben and Emily find each other attractive and appropriate as they whittle around the edges of becoming engaged. Ben and Chris’ attraction seems to be primarily sexual, though Chris worries about getting serious with an “older man.” For the most part, Chris keeps the relationship light and based in sex, while Ben becomes conflicted about what he feels is pressure to escalate his relationship with Emily versus the enjoyment he gets from being with Chris.
Emily comes over one day with news that her roommate is moving out. She wants Ben to give up his place and move in with her. This development heightens Ben’s conflict even more, particularly as Emily knows that Ben is spending a lot of time with Chris.
What to do? Ben’s choices seem to be: escalate the relationship with Emily and agree to move in with her; escalate the relationship with Chris and find a way to keep Emily at bay; or come out about his sexuality to one or both of Emily and Chris, knowing that one or the other will be gone once that happens.
A gay man’s analysis of Ben’s dilemma would focus on Ben’s strong sexual feelings for Chris. The gay man would advise Ben to accept himself as gay, because that’s the honest answer to his dilemma. If Ben continued with Emily, there would come a time when he couldn’t deny his sexuality any longer, hurting both himself, Emily, any family that they’d created together, and, in all likelihood, the other man in the relationship. But, that analysis never is presented, though neither are any of the alternate analyses of Ben’s sexuality. The play leaves Ben to struggle and the audience is left to root for one choice or the other (or to create other choices consistent with a more fluid sexuality). Ben does make a choice. I’ll leave it to you to find out what that choice is (and whether you agree with it) by seeing the play.
For a first production, Straight is surprisingly sophisticated. Each actor presents a believable character, and the three interact naturally and with both humor and pathos; collectively, they do a good job of emphasizing the script’s “up to the minute” feel, as well as covering its weaknesses. A “directing co-opt” consisting of Kate Rose Reynolds and Andréa Agosto helped the actors find a good deal of emotional honesty to play with each other, keeping the temptation to play “acting exercises” at bay. Others involved in the surprisingly good technical aspects of the production were Leigh Ellen Akin, Kellen Gold, Joy Yvonne Jones, Eddie Martinez, and Sean Boyd.
Straight runs only two weekends. Loud Fridge Theatre Group as a company will hopefully run longer than that.