Chuck Blasius, Grant James Varjas
and Keith McDermott in
Accidentally, Like a Martyr
(© Ahron R. Foster)
Chuck Blasius, Grant James Varjas
and Keith McDermott in
Accidentally, Like a Martyr
(© Ahron R. Foster)
The Christmas holidays are approaching, but the denizens of a small gay bar on the Lower East Side of Manhattan are feeling far from merry in Grant James Varjas' Accidentally, Like a Martyr, at Paradise Factory Theatre. However, that's not to say that it's all gloom and doom in this bittersweet but still affectionate portrait of aging gay men dealing with love and loss.

The action of the play flashes back and forth between the present day and 2007 as it follows the lives of some of the bar's regulars. In addition to bartender Jeffrey (Brett Douglas), both time periods feature Edmund (Chuck Blasius), a writer who seems like a hopeless drunk the first time we meet him, but shows up as a teetotaler in the present-day scenes, and Brendan (played by Varjas, who also directs the production), a former cop with substance abuse issues.

Brendan's friend Scott (Ken Forman) is only in the past scenes, while the present- day scenario also features Charles (Keith McDermott), another long-time regular; Mark (Cameron Pow), who has come to the bar to meet in person a guy he's been chatting with online; and J (Kevin Boseman), who has business to take care of with one of these men.

The play has a maudlin streak, as the increasingly inebriated men at the bar divulge more and more personal information, as well as get into frequent verbal arguments that later escalate into a more physical brawl. The characters are often not depicted in a very flattering light, and it is to the actors' credit that they remain as sympathetic as they do.

Pow, who speaks with a soft British accent, is particularly good as Mark relates how his lover died several years past. Blasius is both pathetic and endearing in his initial scene where Edmund bribes Jeffrey into letting him stay past closing so that he doesn't have to face going home. Varjas lets the audience see the fragility behind Brendan's self-destructive behavior, as the character deals with unrequited love and a growing sense of despair.

As the playwright, Varjas mixes humor and melodrama, while also embedding some pointed commentary about the generational differences between the older clientele at this particular bar and the younger crowd who tend to go to the (unseen) gay cocktail lounge nearby. At one point, Charles complains that the youth-oriented gay culture makes men like him "neutered, at best; rendered completely invisible, at worst."

There are a few conflicts and secrets that get divulged throughout the evening to keep the plot moving along, but the play functions more as a character study of gay men of a certain age. And while several of the men depicted can't seem to move beyond the tragedies that have defined their lives, Varjas also provides a ray of hope and the possibility of happiness for at least a couple of the show's characters.