Dan Butler’s one-man play about gay life is sharp and compelling, cleanly slicing to the heart of his characters without excessive sentiment or melodrama.
Show is structured around 14 sketches, told in a storyteller style that’s a mixture of personal memory and invented characters. Characters range from an 8 -year-old Butler experiencing nascent sexual urges to a flamboyant opera queen in a fit of pique to a macho barfly who has just learned that his buddy is gay.
The evening is loosely structured, both in story and theme, lightly dancing from memory to character and back. Butler’s great gift is his finely observed characterizations, delicately woven together by Randy Brenner’s inspired and careful direction.
Throughout the play, Butler finds small moments in life to dramatize. A man obsesses over his sleeping lover, wondering if this is “true love” at the same time debating whether to go on a second date. An Act Up activist gripes about blacks, Hispanics, lesbians and socialists in between cries for social justice. An icy, closeted gay man rips into the gay rights movement, criticizing its tactics, symbols and leadership. And a lovable Southern boy who says he reminds everyone of their maiden aunt recounts a heartbreaking story from the battlefront of AIDS.
While there are many themes at work in this play, including gay pride and social discrimination, the politics of the gay movement, the rejection of gay children by their parents and ultimately the nature of love, Butler wisely lets these themes bubble up naturally rather than addressing them directly. What’s important here is the portrayal of real characters as they face life’s trials including, but not limited to, their sexuality.
Butler, who plays sports announcer Bob (Bulldog) Briscoe on NBC sitcom “Frasier,” is seizing the opportunity to portray characters who are rarely seen on TV, and certainly not with the depth and complexity found here.
Implicit in Butler’s show is the hope that these characters and their stories will someday spill out of the theaters and into other, wider arenas. Clearly Butler, with his all-American charm and straightforward honesty, would be a terrific messenger.