Martin Rayner and Charles-Shaw Robinson
in Gates of Gold
(© Carol Rosegg)
Martin Rayner and Charles-Shaw Robinson
in Gates of Gold
(© Carol Rosegg)
Frank McGuinness' frustrating new play, Gates of Gold -- now making its American premiere at 59E59 Theaters -- is inspired by the lives of Micheal MacLiammoir and Hilton Edwards, the gay male couple who founded Dublin's Gate Theater in 1928. However, while the central love/hate relationship within the text is explored in an interesting manner, a couple of the subplots are not only underdeveloped, it's unclear why they were introduced in the first place.

The play incorporates several facts and anecdotes about MacLiammoir and Edwards, such as the latter's jealous reaction when MacLiammoir was awarded an honorary doctorate. Yet, McGuinness is not writing a biography, which is immediately evident by not even using their names. Instead, the play focuses on Gabriel (Martin Rayner), who is dying, and his longtime companion Conrad (Charles Shaw Robinson), who hires a nurse named Alma (Kathleen McNenny) to care for him.

Gabriel and Conrad may love one another, but their relationship is strained by a lifetime of quarrels and clashing egos. Sending things over the edge is Conrad's infidelity with Gabriel's nephew Ryan (Seth Numrich), who obviously has some father issues that he's working out. The character's place in the play, however, is one of the weaker elements in the script. Especially puzzling is Ryan's last scene in which he seems sincere in wanting to help care for his uncle, and afterwards completely disappears.

Another dangling plot thread concerns the secrets Alma is hiding about her dead brother, which are only partially revealed in a heavy-handed and not very believable moment when she mistakes Ryan for him. Presumably, McGuinness included this subplot to flesh out the relationship between Alma and Gabriel, but cutting it completely could only improve the show. The playwright is also fond of split scenes, but director Kent Paul has not worked out the timing with his cast to make these play convincingly. Instead, the actors often seem overly self-conscious about silently milking a moment while they wait until it's his or her turn to speak.

That said, Rayner does a fine job with the larger than life Gabriel, and nicely handles the character's turn to a more vulnerable state. Robinson has a strong presence as the outwardly reserved Conrad, and a nice rapport with Rayner which makes the characters' relationship believable. He has less chemistry with Numrich, and the younger actor seems ill at ease in his role, tending to indicate the character's emotional states instead of inhabiting them. McNenny does what she can with a stereotypically written part. Rounding out the cast is Diane Ciesla, who plays Gabriel's sister Kassie.

A theme that runs throughout the play is the way lies make life easier to bear. Gabriel is constantly spinning stories, some of them contradictory, which makes it hard for a viewer to know what to trust. But the play ends on a strong note, with a final speech by Conrad that demonstrates beyond a doubt that the love that these men feel towards each other is real.