Conjoined twins. One is straight. One is gay. They share a penis. What could go right?
Max and Benjie are conjoined twins. Max is straight. Benjie is gay. The two share a penis. What could go right? Not a lot, as it turns out. Jay Bernzweig’s televisual comedy “Made in Heaven” is notable more for the performances of thesps Alex Anfanger (Benjie) and Matthew Bondy (his paramour, Gilbert) than it is for its contribution to dramatic literature. Helmer Andrew Shaifer wrings a lot of laughs from the play’s reheated “Will and Grace”-style gags, but ultimately, Bernzweig’s biggest innovation is his surprisingly bleak denouement, which totally annuls the rest of the mildly entertaining enterprise.
“Made in Heaven” opens with Max on the cusp of proposing marriage to the pair’s mutual girlfriend, Jessica (Maia Madison), and Benjie on the cusp of coming out to his brother, thus presenting us with two real strains on the play’s credibility. First, is it possible to share major organs with a person and stay totally oblivious to his sexual orientation? Second, who is going to marry these three? The boys are clearly individuals (incredibly so, in fact, with Max tall and dark and Benjie slight and blond), so isn’t this bigamy? Asking either question probably misses the point, which is that Jessica is both desperate and impressively considerate — as Groucho Marx answered it, “Yes, it’s big of me, too. It’ll be big of all of us!”
Still, this isn’t the only time “Made in Heaven” asks us to take a leap of faith. When Jessica and Max decide to try to find someone for Benjie, they miraculously settle on a hustler, Gilbert, who just happens to be Jessica’s ex-husband, a former molecular biologist. What’s surprising is that once this little love triangle (or square, or whatever) is established, Bernzweig settles down to developing his characters along realistic lines, which of course proves that none of them is actually suited to the task of living with any other, except for the twins.
To some extent, that’s gratifying. It’s true that almost no one immediately converts from drugged-out prostitute to marriageable partner, and it’s also interesting to see the depths of Jessica’s self-loathing (which may or may not have fueled the relationship with Max and Benjie in the first place). But it’s also a serious break with the rest of the play; if we can believe in fraternal conjoined twins, can’t we believe in a happy ending?
Shaifer displays some real talent here: He manages to keep his actors from upstaging each other, but he never clamps them down so tightly that they don’t have room to breathe. Anfanger, for example, has a half-dozen amusing little moments to himself in which he remembers some of the men he’s lusted after. And Bondy’s nicely exaggerated overconfidence does a lot to keep us interested in a character who’s much less than just another pretty face.
Kevin Thomas Collins has a slightly thankless role as Max, literally the straight man, but he makes the most of it, especially when Benjie has to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and can’t wake him up. Madison, in particular, has a gift for delivering a line so well you don’t notice it’s not funny. To be fair, there’s some funny stuff here, and the skill required for two actors to essentially run a three-legged race for an hour and a half is certainly considerable, but it’s hard for even the best production to recommend a play that simply aspires to competence 90% of the time.