In October 2010, Staten Island residents Matthew Francis and Christopher Orlando brutally assaulted Benjamin Carver, a gay man visiting New York from our nation's capital. Shockingly, the attack took place in the men's room of the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street, considered by many to be the birthplace of the modern gay rights movement. (Francis allegedly shouted, "Get away from me f*ggot! I don't like gay people. Don't pee next to me," before punching Carver multiple times as Orlando held him down.) The gay community and the media reacted swiftly and incredulously: How could such a hate crime penetrate this Mecca of the gay world to which so many LGBT people (Carver included) make pilgrimage? If gay people aren't safe at The Stonewall, where are they safe?
Anthony Fusco uses this emotionally charged incident as the inspiration for his play Crossing Verrazano, now showing at The Hudson Guild Theatre as part of The Thespis Theatre Festival. Disappointingly, his treatment is more akin to carpet static than an electric shock to one's core.
Fusco (Big Naked Feet) has taken considerable artistic license, making our protagonist a 25-year-old from L.A. rather than a 34-year-old from D.C. He also gives him an extended back story, including daddy issues and an on-again-off-again relationship. In ripped-from-the-headlines plays like this, such alterations are to be expected, but in Crossing Verrazano they feel more like red herrings than actual clues leading to the heart of the tale.
Angela (Lisa Dennett) has decided to treat her beloved son Casey (a lethargic Brad Carnation), his best friend Trevor (Andrea Gallo channeling Agador Spartacus from The Birdcage), and Casey's ex-boyfriend Bryan (Josh Coleman) to a weekend in New York City. Naturally, their first stop is The Stonewall Inn where they meet Bruno (Noam Shapiro) and Mario (Jonathon Horton), two Staten Island toughs. Casey is immediately attracted to their working-class straight-boy deportment and good looks, but Bryan is suspicious, especially after Bruno asks him for money. As we learned from an earlier scene in which Mario is harassed by his landlord (Rick Malone), money is in short supply. Still, Casey knows what he wants and isn't afraid to go after it.
Economic strife, rapidly changing attitudes about the LGBT community, the fetishization of the working class, sexual ambiguity: Fusco neatly lines the pins up and promptly throws his ball down the gutter. There are so many avenues begging for exploration, but Fusco avoids all of them. This is unfortunate because at least some of his actors seem willing to go there.
As Mario, Horton gives the show's most beguiling performance. From his slicked-back hair to his exaggerated "Italian stallion" baritone, everything about him screams "rough trade." But is Mario the kind of straight dude who occasionally sleeps with other dudes for money? Fusco tantalizingly hints at this prospect (Bruno mentions the possibility of Mario going back to "hustling" to pay his rent), but never develops it further.
Instead, we're treated to something that resembles a gay drama circa 1995. Fusco (who also directs) seems more interested in soft-core sex scenes and lurid depictions of drug use than actually getting to the bottom of what brought these folks together in violence.
To his credit, Fusco (who presumably designed the scenery, since no other designer is credited) has masterfully captured the dusty feel of The Stonewall with his versatile set: A wooden side-table serves as a bar while a red paisley drop lazily covers a beat-up loveseat. You really feel like you're looking at the rear lounge of The Stonewall.
Unfortunately, that realness is not enough to compensate for the falseness of a too-neat ending in which the realities of anti-gay violence are perversely used in service to a happy celebration of gay marriage. Perhaps, however, that is just a reflection of a larger problem of class myopia within the LGBT movement. Crossing Verrazano proudly waves a rainbow flag, but it doesn't seem quite certain why or for whom.