Thomas Flannery, Jr.
Grant James Varjas
Playwright Peter Mercurio’s latest play, Two Spoons, is part of one of theatre’s newest genres – the gay domestic comedy. It seems the days are mostly gone when gay-themed plays felt the need to focus on bathhouses (Terrence McNally’s The Ritz) or AIDS (Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart, Tony Kushner’s Angels in America).
Centered around a thoroughly modern family – partners Larry and Steve and their son, Matthew – the conflicts within the play encompass the passions and trials of family life, as viewed through the lens of a couple raising their son in a tempestuous and tempting world where sexual freedoms sometimes seem to enslave rather than liberate.
The story is as follows. Larry and Steve, on the eve of their marriage, go to Philadelphia (“the city of brotherly love”) for a conference on LGBT youth services that Larry is attending for work. At the Marriott in Philadelphia, they succumb to the temptation to have a threesome with an otherwise unnamed character called Butt Boy, whom they meet in the hotel’s sauna. Their encounter opens up a can of worms within their otherwise healthy relationship (should they have an “ajar” relationship?), and they’re left to pick up the pieces and sort out their doubts about love and marriage and the constraints on these terms for which society is responsible.
Of the actors, Grant James Varjas makes the strongest impression here. His embodiment of neurotic Steve is multilayered and thoroughly compelling. He’s matched by charming Brian Gillespie as Larry, the sensible partner in the relationship. Most disappointingly, Thomas Flannery, Jr., making his New York theatre debut, fails to impress as Butt Boy, a character intended to provide sexual heat and common sense, neither of which qualities he embodies effectively.
Mercurio’s decision to set the action in the couple’s son’s playroom illuminates the proceedings, emphasizing the omnipresence of Matthew in their thoughts and elevating what would otherwise be a pleasant family drama to a play with noteworthy ambitions. Placing adult situations amidst scattered toys, at a child-size table, and on cartoon-themed bed linens is an intriguing and effective choice, one served well by set designer Andrew Pape.
Though the play is at times inspired, using comedy to address themes that seem to tread new ground in the genre of gay theatre, various choices within the play are less than successful. For one, using various characters to narrate the story at hand is a concept that wears thin. Similarly, the character of Matthew is ill-conceived. The son of Larry and Steve, Matthew is said early on to be three years old, but his apparent age oscillates throughout the play between infantile and mature without proper explanation. And while the decision to have Matthew speak mainly in Ben Franklin-style aphorisms is intriguing, the idea’s execution is less than admirable. DeVon Jackson tries without to imbue the character of Matthew with some discernible characterization, but ultimately he’s left to wrangle with an inhospitable text.
Ultimately it’s refreshing to see a play about gay themes that operates on a familial level, for sure, and there is much to admire about Peter Mercurio’s sense of humor, but something here seems missing. For a play about a couple and their son, Matthew’s presence is never significant enough to capture an audience’s affections, and the play’s conclusion seems abrupt and incomplete. The inclusion of a female character in various roles, including several lonely women Larry and Steve encounter in restaurants is similarly frustrating. It is through her that we learn the major theme of the play – that even in our most isolated moments, we long for the thrill of connection. Hers are compelling moments, for sure, but one wishes they could been more effectively placed closer to the drama surrounding Larry and Steve. For a play about brotherly love, pulling focus away from the lovers at hand seemed in error.