An unexpected sexual encounter with a former high school girlfriend sends a 60ish gay man and a pair of long-dead ghosts on a trip down memory lane in Nick Salamone’s Billy Boy, a Playwrights Arena World Premiere that starts out promisingly enough before veering off into the Twilight Zone.

Well over three decades have passed since Michael (Salamone) and Emma (Rachel Sorsa) last laid eyes on each other, but if tonight’s coital adventure is any indication, neither time nor Michael’s three long-term same-sex relationships appear to have quelled the erotic sparks that once had both of them convinced of Michael’s heterosexuality.

Indeed, so deep in denial was the teen-to-early-20s Michael that it wasn’t until an acrimonious breakup with Emma that he and David, his high school bestie, became lovers, a relationship that lasted until the latter, still in the prime of his youth and beauty, fell victim to the plague, his tragic demise (and frequent references to Michael’s later pre-AIDS escapades) making Billy Boy seem at times a relic of that era.

Over the course of some semi-nude post-coital pillow talk in some random big city hotel, Emma catches Michael up on her life today (she eventually got her MD, then became a shrink, and now specializes in a field she keeps deliberately vague), after which the reason for the couple’s long-ago breakup comes to light.

The next thing we know, it’s Michael and a buff, tanned, still 20something David (Matt Pascua) sharing that same hotel room bed, Michael insisting despite David’s reassurances to the contrary that the entire edifice is in imminent danger of burning to the ground.

Is Michael a Ghost Of Lovers Past or nothing more than a figment of a disturbed man’s imagination prompted by news of a certain someone’s murder?

I vote for the former, since no imaginary figment could possibly fill Michael in on what transpired between David and Emma once they were both out of their mutual ex-lover’s life.

I’m guessing Michael’s Mom (Sorsa again) is a ghost too in her two extended scenes, one with an insufferable, catechism-spouting preteen Michael, the second with her son as the troubled mess is today.

Not only did I find it difficult to buy into Billy Boy’s segue into the supernatural, not having been raised Catholic I found it equally hard to identify with Michael’s obsession with purgatory and hell.

Director Jon Lawrence Rivera proves more than up to the challenge of bringing Salmone’s words to life aided by a terrific trio of actors assembled on Christopher Scott Murillo’s pitch-perfect, trick-concealing hotel room set dramatically lit by Derek Jones.

Salamone does dynamic work in a role that feels autobiographical even if it’s not, though I must confess to finding almost nothing more uncomfortable than seeing a grown man play a child (that is unless he’s Tom Hanks in Big).

Pascua is a natural as David, charming and sexy as all get-out, and would be entirely believable in the role were it not for a dozen or so anachronistic tattoos on a torso presumably returned directly from the mostly body-art-free 1970s.

It’s hard to complain about any chance to see the fabulous Sorsa on stage, and she is stunning here as always. Still, if we’re to believe Emma is Michael’s contemporary, she’s too young for the part, and if I’m mistaken and she’s actually a ghost returning as David once knew her, then the opposite would be true. Finally, though there are cases where an actor playing two different roles works to perfection, Salamone’s play would be better served if “Emma” did not return as Michael’s mother.

Mylette Nora’s costumes are just right for the characters and the situations in which they find themselves. (Michael and David spend most of their time in skimpy blue briefs and Emma’s white shirt remains resolutely unbuttoned for those not too shy to look.) Christopher Moscatiello’s evocative sound design completes a topnotch production design package.

Billy Boy is produced by Henry “Heno” Hernandez, who doubles as stage manager.  James Clay Storseth is assistant stage manager.

Having loved Sea Change, The Sonneteer, and Euripides’ Helen, I was expecting more of Billy Boy. Salamone’s latest may be great therapy for its protagonist, but it’s not the great theater I was hoping for.

follow on twitter small

Playwrights’ Arena at Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave, Atwater Village.

–Steven Stanley
September 25, 2017


Tags: , , , ,

Comments are closed.