Boys of a Certain Age
Gays fight about politics in Dan Fingerman's new play.
The last of Richard Nelson's Gabriel plays at the Public Theater was titled Women of a Certain Age. It featured an Upstate New York family sitting around a kitchen table talking about current events (Nelson wrote new dialogue regularly until opening night — the evening of the 2016 election). Taking a page from Nelson's playbook, Dan Fingerman has written Boys of a Certain Age, an up-to-the-minute drama set in the early days of 2017, now playing at Theaterlab.
The story takes place at a beach home owned by Ira Hirschorn (R. Scott Williams), a gay man who claims to be in his 50s (but is probably in his 60s). We suspect he is on Fire Island, although it is never specified. Ira's half-goy nephew, Christopher (Brian Gligor), has fled to this sanctuary following a brutal breakup with his longtime boyfriend. "He was the one that looked like Sal Mineo's Asian cousin," Ira cheekily observes.
It just so happens Ira is expecting other guests this weekend: his old Hebrew School friend, Larry (Joseph J. Menino), and Larry's son, Bryan (Marc Sinoway). Both are gay, but Larry came out of the closet only recently, after he already had a wife and kids. Ira has been out and proud since the 1970s, a fact that impresses Bryan, a radically queer social justice warrior (more like scold) who works at a socialist bookstore. In contrast, Christopher is a gay Republican who works in finance and lives in Hell's Kitchen. According to his Grindr profile, he's, "only looking for masc, fit guys like me." A fresh fifth of Johnnie Walker at the ready, the stage is set for a drinking-and-fighting play of epically homosexual proportions.
And that's what Fingerman delivers. For two hours, these well-to-do white men shout at one another about privilege and politics, capturing the authentic palaver of a certain set of New Yorkers. They argue about Philip Roth, Donald Trump, open relationships, and Israel. Disappointingly, they never mention the HIV-prevention medication PrEP (some issues are just too contentious, even for this group). After Bryan calls out Christopher for body-shaming in his dating profile, Christopher puts him on the defensive: "When's the last time you had sex with a fat guy?" With all the sizzling verbal combat, the play comes to resemble a gay version of The View, but in lieu of a moderator like Whoopi Goldberg, Fingerman and director Dan Dinero regularly employ a blackout to move on to the next hot topic.
Some critics might consider the playwright's transparent agenda hopelessly contrived, exhausted to discover that the ideological skirmishes of the outside world have so thoroughly invaded the theater. But really, this is a perfectly valid and even vital form of drama. While Fingerman's characters do fit a little too neatly into their archetypal boxes, he uses them to snap a Polaroid of gay conversation in the early part of 2017, proving that a playwright can be a first responder to our culture.
It also helps that under Dinero's steady direction, all four actors are able to make their dialectical lines sound real and believable. As late bloomer Larry, Menino does a fabulous job of always appearing as though he is suffering from indigestion. Exasperated, he shouts at Ira, "I can barely figure out how to check the weather without accidentally Facetiming my granddaughter and you're on the Grindr?"
Williams naturally conveys Ira's effortless sass, while Gligor embodies the simmering rage of his nephew, a man whose certainty about the world and his choices in it is meant to conceal a heap of doubt. "Unlike you I actually have a life," he spits at Bryan, protesting too much.
Bryan never seeks to conceal his rage, which Sinoway expresses through a pugnacious performance. He spends much of the show staring at his iPhone, doubtlessly searching for his next Facebook flame war. When he does poke his head up, it is usually to say something disparaging about his father or Christopher.
While no costume designer is credited, Bryan's pink-and-black-checkered sweater hits the mark, perfectly capturing the current fad of cool gays making every day Christmas by donning ugly knitwear.
Joe Burkard's set easily evokes the play's beachfront location with its slatted wooden platforms and dune fences. We imagine the boys lounging on Ira's extensive patio, a space that seems to keep growing as the actors intermittently relocate the railings. With the exception of one scene that takes place in a bar, we are never sure why the set changes, but it does regularly, a redundancy in Dinero's otherwise clear and efficient staging. This solid production by no means resembles the Titanic, but the actors move around the deck chairs just the same. The physical space doesn't need to alter so often to keep us engaged; Fingerman's ideas, conflicts, and magnificent shade are enough.
Certainly, many New York theatergoers will find Boys of a Certain Age intimately, perhaps uncomfortably familiar. Of course, considering the fact that no one onstage is poor, nonwhite, or gentile, others will find it myopic in its insularity (a critique that has been similarly leveled at The Gabriels). Still, Fingerman clearly knows this world and cannot be faulted for that. Boys of a Certain Age is an authentic portrait of our present conversation from a very specific perspective.