Dallas — Uptown Players round out their celebration of Gay History Month with a romantic comedy that features a bisexual love triangle. Straight, written in 2016 by Scott Elmegreen and Drew Fornarola and directed by Ashley H. White, is a smart and funny look at sexual identity in contemporary America.
Twenty-six-year-old Ben is an investment banker. His girlfriend of the past five years is grad student Emily. Ben teasingly calls her “Bioinformatics Barbie.” She gives cancer to laboratory mice. Not because she’s a monster, but because it’s part of her research in epigenetics—basically, the conflict between nature and nurture.
Don’t worry, it won’t be on the test. The playwrights use their characters’ professions as metaphors for the problems that arise between Ben and Emily when Ben starts hooking up with another guy. Where else are you going to get pillow talk about economic value theory?
Ben is splendidly played by Josh Bangle. The character’s conflict over his sexuality is palpable in his portrayal. Despite wanting to also sleep with men, Ben doesn’t want to be pigeonholed for that one thing about him. One reason keeping him on the DL is the fact that despite all the hoopla over marriage equality, deep down he knows that anyone who gets a parade is still only a second-class citizen. His struggle, especially after he develops feelings for the male college student he’s been seeing, manifests physically and vocally, and it’s easy for the audience to sympathize with him. At least at first.
Olivia Grace Murphy’s Emily is a complex character with her own conflict. Despite her intellect, she cannot understand why her long-term boyfriend refuses to move in with her. Murphy charms with her effervescent, high energy.
Evan Michael Woods convincingly plays Chris, the monkey wrench that gets thrown into the Ben-Emily works. He knows about the girlfriend from the beginning, which puts him in a more powerful position when he finally meets her. He’s younger than Ben (20 and three-quarters, to be exact) but is considerably more comfortable with his sexuality, despite not yet coming out to his friends and family. After all, there is no such thing as a coming-out cake. Woods capably depicts the self-assuredness of youth that hasn’t yet had to deal with the harsher challenges of adult life.
From September to January, the audience gets to see the once-casual fling between Ben and Chris develop into something more. Because of the actors’ talent, the connection seems real. Unsurprisingly, the audience starts to root for the two men as they try to figure out the nature of their relationship; but we still want a mature resolution with Emily.
The only thing that is better than each individual actor is the chemistry between them in their scenes together. We have director White to thank for the strong cast and spot-on pacing.
Costumes, designed by Suzi Cranford and Jessie Chavez, are suitable, though Ben’s colorful socks are never changed throughout a play that takes place over at least four months. The other male character changes socks between scenes.
Dennis Canright’s scenic design for what the program refers to as “a contemporary loft apartment” doesn’t quite seem right. The furniture is heavy and stuffy. There’s a dark leather sofa and matching armchair. The room reads more as a basement apartment than a loft; none of the furnishings come across as contemporary or as something a 26-year-old investment banker might own.
Some audience members might feel cheated by Straight’s curveball of an ending. The final, unsatisfying scene undoes much of the goodwill and sympathy that Ben’s conflict has garnered throughout. Its abruptness is one of the few flaws of the script.
Still, go see this play. It’s a fair portrayal of the struggles of sexual identity that gays (and bisexuals) still have to deal with even within the current state of equality.
» Straight runs in rotating repertory with The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey. Read our review here.