Gay Pride is here and with it comes a parade of queer- and queer-interest productions. The class of 2000 includes Syria, America, Happy Anniversary, Bruce Vilanch in Almost Famous, Straight-Jacket, Mike Albo’s Sexotheque, The Laramie Project, Jonny McGovern’s Dirty Stuff, Current Events, and now, a new play by Paul Harris, You Look for Me, running through July 2.
Of the lot, Upstart Theatre Company’s You Look for Me, now running at HERE Arts Center is among the less likely to succeed. The well-meaning, if non-compelling, 90-minute play uses 35 years’ worth of correspondence to tell the repetitious, tedious story of Jack (Don Price) and Christopher (Tom Foral).
The two men meet in 1965 as members of the U.S. Peace Corps in Colombia where they quickly develop a physical relationship. Frightened by his emerging sexuality, Jack returns to the States and begins writing I-like-gay-sex-but-I’m-not-gay letters to Chris. Only 20 minutes into the show, Jack has apparently written more than a dozen such letters, each one denying his homosexuality. In response, Chris invites his paramour to come out, warning him, however, that he may “become a sexual neurotic.” A simple “But’cha’ahhre, Jack. Ya’ahhre gay” would have been sufficient. Unfortunately, You Look for Me takes itself too seriously to experiment with such humor.
Rather than ending the relationship and allowing the audience to go home, playwright Paul Harris creates an unseen wife for Jack (ironically named Mary), and moves Chris to New York, where the character can quickly self-actualize into a stereotypically bitter queen who “thrives on being different.” Unable to find a relationship matching the “unbridled passion” he felt with Jack, Chris hopelessly flits from one sexual partner to another–as all gay men in New York do, one might suppose, or be asked to assume. Preferring a “life with purpose and meaning,” Jack fathers two children and unselfishly surrenders himself to a loveless marriage with Mary, a woman described as “funny, clever, and great company,” To paraphrase the song, I bet she can cook, too.
As directed by Elowyn Castle, You Look for Me is presented without too much attention to detail. For example, it’s often difficult to place Jack and Chris’ letters within any particular timeframe. There are casually tossed about references to Richard Nixon, A Chorus Line, disco, Wal-Mart, M Butterfly, David Mamet, Ronald Reagan, Hillary Clinton, and Rudy Giuliani to help guide the audience. Several references seem particularly out of order, like an early mention of Keanu Reeves. Jack claims that his daughters are “mad” about the actor. While the surrounding text supposedly takes place in the mid-to-late ’70s, it seems important to add that Reeves didn’t gain pin-up status until 1989’s Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, er, dude.
Seemingly inspired by the genre of the made-for-TV movie, Harris’ script is filled with clichéd dialogue and a greeting-card sentiment. Regarding his wife, Jack claims, “I do love her, but I’m not in love with her.” Likewise, Chris poetically compares homophobia to the weather. “It’s like humidity,” he writes, “you can’t see it, but you know it’s there.” And, in case it’s missed the first time, the phrase “I’ll always love you” is repeated so frequently that one expected Whitney Houston to make a guest appearance.
More than anything, there is the fact that despite their respective characters’ great love for one another, Foral and Price never connect emotionally to one another or, for that matter, to the audience. As sender or receiver, there is little reaction to the letters being read. Unable to overcome the hackneyed writing and lackluster direction, the actors give routine, sedate performances.
By the timeworn play’s melodramatic end, the causalities add up. Christopher’s “second chance at love” dies from AIDS and one of the two leading men is diagnosed with prostate cancer. To its credit, You Look for Me succeeds as a plea for all men–even “the type of guy who goes with other guys”–to have annual prostate examinations.
Theatrically, You Look for Me attempts to be a gay version of A.R. Gurney’s successful, romantic play Love Letters. As delivered, You Look for Me is rather a misappropriation of postage.