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Different Men: Jo Benincasa and Dared Wright
(Photo: R. Goldstein)
A Different Man suffers from a genre identity crisis. It starts out as a light-hearted comedy, veers off into murder mystery, and flirts with being a domestic drama on gay relationships while at the same time bordering on melodrama. But the most serious problem of this uneven work, written and directed by Robert Coles, is that its premise strains credibility.

It's impossible to adequately discuss the play without giving away some of the script's "surprises," so be forewarned that this review contains a few spoilers. The action unfolds in a small Mexican town, where Henry (Anthony John Lizzul) has been hiding out for the past nine years following a messy break-up with his ex-boyfriend. The breakup was so messy, in fact, that two undercover FBI agents have come looking for Henry. They have a rather peculiar (and unprofessional) means of getting Henry to confess: Sam (Dared Wright), the older of the two agents, makes first contact with Henry and the latter is so smitten with him that he's ready to confess everything. But Sam pulls a disappearing act, as he wants his much younger partner -- and boyfriend! -- Ronnie (Jo Benincasa) to have sex with Henry as a means of getting that confession.

The relationship between Sam and Ronnie is never explored enough to justify why Sam is eager for Ronnie to do it with a suspected murderer. Moreover, the character of Sam is incredibly underwritten; by the second act, he is nothing more than a villainous caricature. It doesn't help matters that Wright is unable to add any depth to the role.

The other two characters -- and actors -- fare better. Lizzul paints a portrait of a flawed but ultimately sympathetic fellow who is brought down by his romanticized ideals about the perfect man. After a rocky start, Benincasa has some fine moments in the second act -- particularly in a semi-confessional monologue towards the end of the play.

The most promising aspects of A Different Man are those that deal with the domestic troubles of the characters, and their misconceptions concerning gender roles and behavior. Coles doesn't seem to trust his ability to make this the subject of the play; instead, he's constructed a contrived plot to contain these ideas, where a simpler approach might have been more effective.

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