Letters from Young Gay Men
Reviewed by Lovell Estell III
Studio C Artists
Through April 2
The inspiration for this show was drawn from Letters to a Young Poet, the famous tome by the great Austrian romantic poet, Rainer Marie Rilke. Rilke wrote the letters to a young Austrian Army cadet who had sought advice on whether he should pursue a career in the army, or become a poet.
They are here dramatized as a series of communiques between older gay men and younger ones, mentors and mentees, under the editorial hand of psychotherapist Brian Gleason, with direction provided by John Coppola. What is most impressive about them, beyond their emotional impact and unsettling familiarity, is their frankness, clarity and optimism.
Terry Houlihan, Charles Antelby and Jeffrey Wylie are the “elder statesman,” who read the letters written by Joseph C. Baken, Jordan Santoro and Matthew Ramos. Responses are then read back by the younger members. In a simple, yet effective visual, the actors are all paired off in different colored t-shirts. The letters present a richly varied portrait of past, present and future; what it was like “back in the day,” to be gay in America, the struggle for self-acceptance, the impact of AIDS on loved ones and the community, the search for love and meaningful relationships, the painful ritual of coming out to friends and family, and the ongoing fight for dignity and validation.
In one especially poignant letter, a young man talks about not wanting TO tell his ailing father that he is gay because he does not want to make him sicker —or kill him. In another segment that we are informed takes place in West Hollywood, the impact of drugs and alcohol on the community is discussed, with the three younger actors rattling the stage in a raucous eruption of music and dance.
For the most part, this hour-long show is well-done, although there are some nettlesome patches of monotony. The actors interact effectively, but their performances would benefit from a bit more polish and consistency. This production is part of the LAMBDA literary festival.
Studio C Artists, 6448 Santa Monica Blvd., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; through April 2 http://www.studiocartists.com Running time: 1 hour with no intermission.