Manu Narayan, Marcy Harriell  and Brian Henderson
in Getting Home
(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
Manu Narayan, Marcy Harriell
and Brian Henderson in Getting Home
(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
"Fairy tales, like stereotypes, have their foundations in truth," says a character in Anton Dudley's Getting Home. The play, presented as part of Second Stage Theatre's Uptown series, deals with all three of those terms and the muddy waters surrounding them. While David Schweizer's uneven production has a fair share of funny and engaging moments, the play ultimately tries so hard to be cute that it ends up falling short of its mark.

Composed of three interlocking stories about love, romance, and friendship, the show begins with Tristan (Brian Henderson), a twenty-something gay white male who is unexpectedly offered a ride home -- and a whole lot more -- from a handsome Indian cab driver (Manu Narayan). The next section of the play focuses on Tristan's friend Jan (Marcy Harriell), a neurotic African-American woman who works in the reptile house of the Central Park Zoo. She unexpectedly becomes the focus of attention for both a male co-worker (Narayan) and a Russian photographer (Henderson). The final tale concerns Nilesh (Narayan), a Brooklyn shop owner whose one true love Kadeeshya (Harriell) is being lusted after by his friend Laser (Henderson).The love stories are intentionally sappy, and both the script and production comment on this fact through various means including wry commentary from the characters.

The stories might also seem more realistic if not for the overblown performances from two of the show's three actors. Henderson's Tristan is a walking gay stereotype, and the actor engages in far too many forced mannerisms in order to try to convey a whimsical tone. There's nothing particularly complex about his portrayal of the other two characters he plays, but they have far less stage time, so the broad comedic characterizations he employs are sufficient. For her part, Harriell pushes too hard as Jan, although her zany energy is often amusing. As Kadeeshya ,she is only seen once, performing a version of the Indian epic love poem The Masnavi, and Harriell effecitvely mimics the cadence of spoken word poets that you might hear at places like the Nuyorican Poets Café.

The roles that Narayan plays are far calmer than either Tristan or Jan -- a fact referenced by Nilesh, who tells the audience that he lacks their "theatrical natures." Yet this theoretical shortcoming allows Narayan to focus more on the inner lives of his characters, who come across as more richly textured than the others on stage. Schweizer needs to rein in the cast's excesses. He should also focus more attention on the play's content rather than just its flash and style -- although designers Andrew Lieberman (set), Aaron Black (lights), Erin Chainani (costumes), and Ryan Rumery (sound) do a stellar job at making the production look and sound terrific.

To his credit, Dudley explores race, culture, and mythology in a refreshingly complex manner. Tristan is taking a course at NYU called "Fairy Tales and Their Contemporary Urban Parallels in Reality," which becomes a recurring motif in Getting Home. Specifically, he's just completed a unit on Indian mythology -- "the Bombay kind, not the Navajo" -- and Tristan is often seen as a bit clueless in relation to the way he talks about race around his friends and lovers. This doesn't make him unsympathetic, but it does give a bit of an edge to such comments as Tristan's "I must be Bombay dreaming!" (The fact that Narayan originated the lead role in the Broadway production of the musical gives the line added resonance.)

While raising the specter of racial stereotypes via his characters' interactions with one another, Dudley also takes pains to subvert expectations. Tristan's suggestion to his cab-driving boyfriend that they use his taxi to go somewhere for dinner is met with the reply, "Please, there is more to me than that." Additionally, while Nilesh runs a trendy boutique specializing in Indian merchandise that might appear to exoticize him in a racially problematic manner, it's revealed that the character was born and raised in Westchester.

At times, the quirkiness of Dudley's writing seems overly artificial, and Tristan's philosophical musings at both the beginning and end of the play could use some editing. But there's definite promise demonstrated here, which could be further developed in a future production. Eventually, Getting Home could be turned into a home run.