Celebration Theatre opens its 29th season, and its first with John Michael Beck as its Artistic Director, with an all-around sensational revival of Patrick Wilde’s What’s Wrong With Angry?, brilliantly directed by Michael Matthews, impeccably performed by a cast of ten, and stunningly designed by some of L.A.’s finest creative talents. Need I say more?


Admittedly, some will protest that English teen protagonist Steven Carter’s coming-out-story is one we’ve all seen and heard before, and that in the “post-gay” 2010s, we’ve moved beyond a need for “Gay Theater” to a time where a character’s gayness ought to be both peripheral and irrelevant.

To those I would simply point out the recent rash of teen suicides, the current spate of “It Gets Better” videos prompted by these tragic, needless deaths, and Tennessee’s pending “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which would forbid teachers to discuss homosexuality with elementary and middle school students.

What’s Wrong With Angry?’s Steven Carter (Daniel Taylor) lives in an early 1990s England in which Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 has made it illegal for a local authority to “intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.” Nevertheless, despite the anti-gay environment which surrounds him and the ceaseless bullying he suffers on a daily basis at his all-boys high school, Steven has somehow managed to become a proud young gay man (if not out and proud), and a sexually active one at that.

We first meet Steven seated on a park bench outside a public toilet waiting to meet a stranger, not merely for sex, but for the kind of undying love promised in the pocket Romeo And Juliet he’s reading, or at least pretending to read. Though a public loo would hardly seem the ideal spot to find romance, “cottaging” (as the British so charmingly put it) is pretty much a teenager’s only option in his pre-Internet world, and in an England in which the homosexual age of consent is six years older than the heterosexual sixteen.

At first, 20something Glen (Rick Cosnett) seems destined to be Steven’s Prince Charming, or at least so Steven insists to his best girlfriend Linda (Kelly Schumann), that is until Steven realizes that his dream lover was interested in nothing more than a one-time quickie.

Things change radically, however, when one enchanted afternoon Steven meets a stranger across a crowded restroom (actually they’re side-by-side at adjoining urinals). Outside, in the light of day, the tall, dark, and handsome stranger turns out to be none other than John Westhead (Miles Heymann), star athlete at Steven’s high school and the boy he’s been pining over all year.

Unlike Steven, though, John is so deeply in the closet that he can’t even admit to his gay desires, despite an obvious interest in this adorable, adoring schoolmate. With a deeply internalized homophobia like John’s, is there any possibility this relationship can even get started, let alone flourish?

Gay film buffs may recognize the above characters from 1998’s Get Real, for which Wilde wrote a screenplay about 50% different from his stage play, the latter coming across less romcom, more political, and definitely more theatrical, particularly as staged by the always inspired Michael Matthews.

What’s Wrong With Angry? wears its politics on its sleeve in the person of Simon Hutton (Kevin Fabian), a 40something teacher at Steven’s school who recognizes in Steven his own gay teenage self, yet is prevented by law from giving the youth the advice and support he so desperately needs.

If all this seems a bit too dark and teen-angsty to make for an evening’s entertainment, rest assured. What’s Wrong With Angry? is as laugh-filled a drama as you’re likely to see all year. Steven Carter sees life with an delightful sense of the absurd, the situations in which he finds himself are often comedic ones, and stout, sassy Linda uses humor and sarcasm like a weapon.

What’s Wrong With Angry? at the Celebration continues the LGBT theater’s tradition of superb ensemble casts, a standard set high in the last few years by Take Me Out, F*cking Men, and The Women Of Brewster Place, to name just three. Though the current production’s “teenagers” have been cast a tad older than I might have preferred, outstanding performances allow for considerable suspension of disbelief.

Taylor, so memorable in last year’s AfterMath, does powerful work once again, instilling in Steven a combination of grit, wit, confidence, and vulnerability. L.A. newcomer Heymann matches Taylor in his touching, even heartbreaking work as John, whose popularity at school makes coming out seem the farthest thing from possible. As for Schumann, the breathtaking star of Beautiful Thing and Stupid Kids does her finest work yet as big, bold, brassy, Linda, never letting us forget amidst her bravado that (to paraphrase The Bard) she bleeds when pricked.

Matthew Henerson is the supporting cast standout in a variety of delectably delineated roles, including Steven’s father, his school headmaster, and assorted dirty old men. Fabian does touching work as a man longing to be free from the society that keeps him closeted. Cosnett, Melinda Augustina as Steven’s mother, and Todd Gaebe, AJ Jones, and Susane E. Lee as Steven’s classmates (and assorted cameos) provide first-class support.

Still, What’s Wrong With Angry?’s brightest star is its director, whose work here matches his dazzling directorial turns in last year’s Take Me Out and The Temperamentals. From the opening dream sequence (not in Wilde’s script), which cues us immediately to Steven’s daily victimization, to the brilliantly choreographed sequence which has Steven’s bullies attacking him like wild, spitting beasts, to the many ways Matthews and his design team create vividly theatrical images on the Celebration stage, this is masterful work that places the Chicago-to-Los Angeles transplant at the top of any list of L.A.’s best directors.

Kurt Boetcher’s stark set design, technical director/lighting director Matthew Brian Denman’s dramatic, emotion-charged lighting, Cricket S. Myers’ exciting sound design, Miguel Montalvo’s striking, mostly red-and-black costumes, and Michael O’Hara’s spot-on early ‘90s property design make What’s Wrong With Angry a visual and auditory treat. Accents, dialect coached by Tuffet Schmelzle and Tracy Winters, are spot-on, except for a U.S.-pronounced “urinal.”

Lukas Kanter is What’s Wrong With Angry? assistant director, Marcedes Clanton production stage manager, and Ronn Jones assistant stage manager. The What’s Wrong With Angry? production team also includes Michael C. Kricfalusi (executive director/executive producer), Beck (executive producer), O’Hara (associate managing director/production manager), Nicholas Caprio and Samantha Kern (producers), Christopher Pearson and Pablo Prince (associate producers), Gaebe, Jones, and Taylor (fight captains), and Jami Rudofsky (casting director).

Special Wednesday performances in October will feature understudy cast members Cassidy Boyd, David Coretti, Mark Jacobson, Royce Johnson, Maury Morgan, Joseph O’Malley, Teya Pitt, Tobit Raphael, and John Schumacher. Kudos to the Celebration for these added performances, an example other theaters would do well to follow.

What’s Wrong With Angry? opens Celebration Season 29 (which also includes Noël Coward’s Design For Living, Leslie Jordan’s latest one man show, and an intimate staging of Broadway’s The Color Purple with Matthews at the helm) on a high note indeed.

Celebration Theatre, 7051B Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Through November 19.

–Steven Stanley
September 9. 2011
Photos: Miguel Montalvo

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