Playwright JC Lee has one finger on the zeitgeist, the other on Boys in the Band, to which his play might arguably be called a successor. The fast-paced, undemanding piece is crammed with contemporary gay pop references. Nothing much happens to his group of frenemies – some betrayal, some small signs of emotional growth, some rebonding, and the path to what does happen is well greased, but Lee writes entertaining, articulate dialogue. He also posits a facet of reality which is discomfiting. In Lee’s world, pre-AIDS, pre-COVID sexual promiscuity is rampant. One hopes people are taking good care.
Jay Armstrong Johnson (Curtis), Maulik Pancholy (Castor)
Sixty-something Bernie (Bryan Batt, skillfully playing a tad more settled than the young men – without having grown dull)) has rented his Palm Springs apartment to selfish, narcissistic, insecure (late thirties) Curtis (Jay Armstrong Johnson -good at flamboyance, not so much at conveying emotion). The 2021 weekend reunites old friends ostensibly after the worst of the pandemic.
Five are meant to share the house: Castor (Maulik Pancholy – sympathetic and credible), followed Curtis, for whom he suffers abject, unrequited love, to the west coast from New York. Socially/ sexually unsuccessful, working ashamedly as a barista, he’s almost always “on,” acting as Curtis’s supporter and clown. Castor is disappointed not to bunk with the ersatz host who fusses around making lethal margaritas. “For a top, you have a lot of fussy bottom energy.”
Bryan Batt (Bernie), Noah J. Ricketts (Omar), Maulike Pancholy (Castor)
Leo (Britton Smith, adding excellent ballast without untoward weight) has flown from the east coast where the group originally met. More emotionally grounded than his friends, he’s an observer to much that happens, channeling energy to social media. Leo is wry and a peacemaker. Missing are the couple Todd and Jeff (Carman Lacivita, a yeoman like portrayal) who are late, perpetually arguing on the road. Eventually the latter turns up.
One night after partying in town, Castor brings “home’ Omar (Noah J. Ricketts – setting the right, calm tone for a character who’s in essence a theatrical device). The younger man has such an astonishingly appealing physique, Castor is gob smacked to have attracted him. “You seem nervous,” the pick-up comments. “I’m only nervous when Taylor Swift does choreography,” Castor anxiously quips. A parentheses of gay history is interjected here for Omar’s benefit. Could it possibly be he doesn’t know what chat rooms were?! Later, another, more serious one arrives by way of a disinterred New York speech made by Castor (at a demonstration) which is read aloud. The latter is worthy. Wires cross, Castor falls asleep and Omar goes to bed with another house occupant.
Jay Armstrong Johnson (Curtis), Maulik Pancholy (Castor), Britton Smith (Leo)
There are Pussycat Doll scenes in which the group dons colorful caftans, heels and wigs to make a tape; Bernie is revealed to be Republican (eliciting some snide remarks, but not much else); Omar is, in fact, somewhat more than he seems, appreciative of Castor’s humor and sincerity. That’s really all you need to know. My gay companion took no issue at rampant clichés. The audience had a good time. Don’t look for profundity. This bounces along with good will.
Director Stephen Brackett’s exaggerated gesture and expression is youthful and ingenuous, visually arresting and well paced; it works. Individual character traits poke out from just below the surface.
Arnulfo Maldonado’s kitchy Palm Springs, California set appears to be stuck in the 1970s. Cushions saying Prozac and XANAX 1.0 and an amusing yoga painting are nifty touches. The choice is likely meant to reflect its owner’s age and is all of a piece.
Costumes by Sarafina Bush are terrific – apt and sometimes outrageous, always credible to character. Sound design by Sinan Refik Zafar employs the right, buoyant music.
Photos by Joan marcus Opening: Britton Smith (Leo), Jay Armstrong Johnson (Curtis), Maulik Pancholy (Castor)
2nd Stage presents
To My Girls by JC Lee
Directed by Stephen Brackett
Second Stage Tony Kiser Theater
305 West 43rd Street
Through April 24, 2022