New York City Theater
Remember the joke about “a conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged”? Jordan Harrison might. His play, “Log Cabin,” having its world premiere at Playwrights Horizons, traces the acceptance / rejection that marks the rocky journey from same-sex marriage to adoption to surrogate mothers to transgender men and women, asking what happens when yesterday’s “outcasts” become today’s “privileged.”
Pertinent as his purpose may be, the comedy with its superficial characters, is too prolix, too unemotional to make an impact beyond its intellectual leanings. It’s more argument than drama.
The title refers to Log Cabin Republicans, a gay organization that supports, well, Republicans. Yet the play’s characters aren’t Republicans or conservatives. Rather, they’re horrified reaction by the election of Donald Trump. It’s through their attitudes that their intolerance emerges.
Taking place in a swell-looking Brooklyn apartment between 2012 and 2017, the tale focuses on three couples. Ezra is white, his husband Chris is black. As for the wives, Jules is British, Pam is Asian-American. Then here’s Henry, a trans man in the process of transitioning from his years as Helen, and Myna, his defensive girlfriend.
In tracing the history of gay liberation, the loving couples come up against their own prejudices. Perfectly satisfied with their perceived integration into straight society, are they closing the closet door on transgenders aching for the same degree of recognition, respect and equality?
Besides the transgender plot, the playwright delves into infidelity, categorizations tribalism and advice to the lovelorn. It’s a lot.
“The world is changing too fast for people to understand,” says Chris, countered by Ezra with, “The world isn’t changing fast enough; who cares if they understand?” Tested by the reality of new frontiers and definitions – cisgender, transgender – the work is also about white privilege, class and sex.
Jesse Tyler Ferguson’s jolly, campy Ezra is matched by Phillip James Brannon’s deep resentments as Chris. Cindy Cheung is a reticent, composed Pam, Dolly Wells a muddled Jules and Talene Monahon a self-protective Myna. But the evening belongs – or would belong if he were more front and center – to Ian Harvie, a transgender actor who is both anguished and sensitive as Henry.
On Allen Moyer’s elegant turntable set, director Pam MacKinnon injects bubbling life into what is too often a talkfest. Russell H. Champa’s lighting, Jessica Pabst’s spiffy costumes and Leah Gelpe’s essential sound design fool us into accepting the reality of people who believe the apocalypse is past. But it’s just beginning.
--David A. Rosenberg
June 29, 2018