A gay man seeking vengeance on the bashers who killed his first love years before. Jesus dancing a tango in heaven with the disciple whose betrayal led to his death on the cross. A closeted mega-rich movie star and the openly gay starving actor who was once his one true love. Antagonistic friends of a recently od’ed crystal meth addict sorting through his things. An angry gay activist being interviewed by a young journalist who idolizes him. A murdered gay man and one of his killers meeting once again in heaven.
These are the elements (and the six scenes) which make up Chris Phillips’ revolver, now getting its official World Premiere at Celebration Theatre, several years after a three-performance workshop received a GLAAD Media Award nomination for Outstanding Los Angeles Theatre.
The revolver of Phillips’ play’s title is the means by which Jim takes revenge one-time gay basher John. It is the prop which Nelly will be firing should he book a bit part in movie star Butch’s next action blockbuster. It is the blunt instrument used to pommel a defenseless gay man into unconsciousness. And it is the weapon whose shape resembles a map of West Hollywood, which the angry gay activist sees as a metaphor for gay life.
Scene by scene, Phillips’ revolver proves gripping theater, primarily dramatic but with forays into comedy, and in one particularly memorable sequence, into dance, the latter choreographed with supreme imagination and panache by Janet Roston, and all of the above directed with assurance and visual flair by Ryan Bergmann.
Next up is the absolutely thrilling pas-de-deux tango choreographed by the Ovation-winning Roston and danced by Terrance Spencer and Daniel Montgomery as J.C. and Judas, who carry on a running conversation throughout, the image of one man crucified later reflected in a drug addict’s death pose and a young man tied to a fence and left for dead in Laramie, Wyoming.
The reunion between AJ Jones’ closeted Butch and Matthew Scott Montgomery as his pre-fame first love Nelly recalls Celebration’s recent Justin Love in its alternately humorous and emotional depiction of the high cost paid by those living in the Hollywood closet, the two actors’ layered performances making for one of revolver’s best and most touching scenes.
Paterno and Spencer return to powerful effect as Noah and Patrick, the two men closest to recently deceased meth addict Cole, with Patrick unable to forgive Noah for his part in Cole’s addiction despite Noah’s upcoming four years of sobriety.
Reporter (Matthew Scott) Montgomery’s interview with rage-filled Vince (Colella) becomes the latter’s tour-de-force monolog, the story of a gay man turned activist, a nelly boy transformed into butch adult who has lived through the AIDS epidemic only to find himself revolted by the apathy of contemporary gay men who have become each other’s worst enemy.
Finally, a superb Jones returns opposite an equally memorable (Daniel) Montgomery as gay basher Aaron, the former finally given a chance at redemption as, up above, he meets the man for whose murder he has spent a lifetime behind bars.
Riveting as each of the above scenes is, together they form a whole that is less satisfying that its parts. The revolver-as-WeHo and WeHo-as-metaphor works for some scenes and not particularly well for those seeming to have little connection to West Hollywood. Audiences may also find themselves wondering what exactly the through line is that connects all six scenes, though to Phillip’s credit, we do discover from Scene Five’s reporter what all of them have in common.
Perhaps more significantly, despite its 2013 World Premiere status, Phillips’ play feels like a play written ten years ago, and not simply because lines like “Julia Roberts is a star” and references to Tom Cruise’s “I’m not gay” lawsuit feel very 2003, the year Cruise won that case. Mostly downbeat, revolver seems part of a world before marriage equality in twelve states, the end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and a rapidly increasing number of out gay actors. Without a sense of the hope this recent progress has brought about, those under thirty are unlikely to find revolver reflective of the world they live in today or the attitudes of people who make up that world.
Technical director-lighting designer-scenic consultant Matthew Brian Denman and sound designer Rebecca Kessin have given revolver a striking look and sound, one which carries out Phillip’s request for a minimalist set with only a few chairs and props in the most stylish of fashion, very sparse and very noir and very dramatically effective. Michael O’Hara deserves top marks as well for his costume and properties design, as does fight director Sondra Mayer for Noah and Patrick’s knock-down-drag-out.
Kudos go too to video projection designer Ameenah Kaplan, assistant director Tracey McAvoy, and stage manager Colin Grossman. Casting is by Jami Rudofsky.
Additional credits are shared by O’Hara (executive producer, managing director), Michael C. Kricfalusi (executive director, executive producer), Michael Matthews (co-artistic director, executive producer), Michael A. Shepperd (co-artistic director, executive producer), Rebecca Eisenberg (producer), Christopher Grant Pearson (producer), Luke Kanter (co-producer), and Brittney S. Wheeler (co-producer).
Phillips’ gift for dialog, a talented cast, and inspired direction and design combine to give revolver its considerable power. It would be even more powerful were it more reflective of the changes the past ten years have wrought.
Celebration Theatre, 7051B Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood.
June 14, 2013
Photos: Sean Lambert