In praise of ‘Hand Grenades’ at RTP, where gay is so normal that it can be ordinary (last performance tonight!)
Hand Grenades is a play about two women who fall in love, out of love, one goes back to her boyfriend, kicks him out and wonders why she left her girlfriend in the first place.
Pretty ordinary run of the mill television type situation if it were all heterosexual. This relationship, however, features two women.
Hallelujah! The day is here that even gay drama can be run of the mill and television ready for the Lifetime channel.
I rejoice in ordinariness becoming commonplace in a world that historically has been anything but ordinary.
There is a wide spectrum of gay theatre out there. There’s tawdry cabaret and meaningful but over-wrought AIDS plays but there has never been such wide acceptance of homosexuality to the extent that it is now fodder for the ordinary “relationship” scenario. Cheating, hard to live with ordinary people.
Like you and me and everybody else, no?
Unfortunately, ordinary on its own does not make good theatre.
Hand Grenades by the playwright Monica Giordana is sort of over-wrought too. It really has nothing new to say about relationships. Or gay relationships. It is a fairly decent study in the loss of love. The play uses a few devices which help it along.
The role of Narrator is one. The center of the play is Diana, played by Maggie McGurn. She cheats on her girlfriend with her old boyfriend and then has an equally bad breakup with him. When she is with one, the other serves as Narrator. This is where you get much perspective.
The other device is the posting of time. The days of a relationship are kept score on supertitles flashed against the back wall. Each new day a badge of honor, or a demarcation of some sort of record for the longevity of gay relationships.
Even the return to the boyfriend is counted by days in relation to how it has interfered with the central relationship between the two women.
Still the observations are mundane and what we’ve come to expect in post break-up dialogue.
What makes this production worthwhile in a nutshell is the way the women are handled.
The director Chelsea Burke has a gift for these scenes. People actually dealing with each other, one on one. Two women on a couch talking, touching, snuggling, distancing, avoiding. It’s all handled very well.
Ms. Burke has two wonderful actresses to elevate the script.
Rachel Hindman and McGurn play off each other beautifully. Simple and direct dialogue and emotion. You care about what happens to them.
Ms. Hindman, in particular has a facility to strip down action to raw emotion so that you can see everything on her face. In her eyes. She has a distinct “watch-ability” that doesn’t disappoint. She did very well in her scene work and excellent work as the second half narrator, punching the dialogue, invading the scene across the stage with her observations and retorts, making every moment personal.
One of the annoying conceits of the play is that Ms. Hindman’s character is named “Ophelia.” Given that name and knowing Ophelia goes mad and dies in the play “Hamlet,” she has never read Shakespeare’s play. It’s a clunky ongoing bit and I tried to find the meaning in the use. Her parents have some explaining to do with the choice of that name.
Will Hart was “Troy,” the “man” in the middle. First, “Troy” is stereotypically a gay name (blast you Troy Donahue!), so you knew there’d be trouble. When his relationship breaks down he gets very introspective and nervous and comes very close to saying something, which, for many, appeared to be his acceptance of his gay side. It came and went quickly without obvious resolution so you can’t be sure but I’d bet a quarter.
A relative newcomer, Hart had opening jitters and stumbled for a while. It took him a few minutes to calm down, regain his place and his composure and then he was fine. Kind of makes you smile some. We’ve all been there. He bounced back well, performing an excellent breakup scene with Ms. McGurn and at one point serenading her with his very fine vocals.
The staging was sometimes clunky and other times breathtaking. The proscenium work off the couch was curious at times and then at the end of the play when Ophelia comes up the center aisle leaving Diana on stage way off but angled, it was a beautiful picture and a beautiful moment.
Ms. Burke teased my heart by using piano versions of Beatles songs, and others, as transition music. Not always thematically relevant to the action she was separating, she was going for a cool jazz feel moving the scenes along.
The action worked well on the set RTP has up for its mainstage production of “Perfect Arrangement.”
The Sister Series has thus far produced this play and Glory Days last month. Haven’t loved the scripts but love the chance to see baby bird artists get stage time and flap their wings.
There is only one performance left tonight (grab tickets here!) and I don’t know any reason why you shouldn’t go. It’s Tuesday. Shows are down. This is a production worth seeing.
Tonight at 5:30 pm across the country, an estimated 700 theaters will participate in an event called The Ghostlight Project. On the eve of the 45th Presidential inauguration, ranging from Broadway to regional academic or community theaters, people will gather to symbolically create light for what they perceive as dark times ahead. Theaters like Virginia [...]January 19, 2017
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