The Second Stage always goes out of its way to give good workshop in the annual summer series it hosts in its Uptown theater. “Getting Home,” a whimsical urban fairy tale by Anton Dudley (“Slag Heap”), reaps the benefit of that stroking in a brightly staged production by David Schweizer. Feel-good message, cute young cast and nifty tech package, all bundled up smartly for the tiny stage — what’s not to like? The play, that’s what. Fey to a fault, this gay fantasy about the magical power of a folk legend to bring love to the loveless is just too twee for words.
Taking a page from the Craig Lucas school of playwriting, scribe Dudley devises an ornate modern-day fairy tale to bring the magic of romance into the lives of a sweet gay lad and his best friend.
Tristan (Brian Henderson), a twentysomething New Yorker with a profoundly romantic soul, is taking a course at NYU on “Fairy Tales and Their Contemporary Urban Parallels in Reality” when he meets a handsome cab driver (Manu Narayan) from India who actually knows about this stuff. In between their lovemaking, the cabbie begins telling Tristan the tale of “The Snake Prince,” with its message that true love is attainable by those who are courageous — and crafty.
Impatient to hear the end of the story, Tristan leans on his friend Nilesh (also played by Narayan), who owns an Indian boutique and is happy to oblige. Stirred by the beautiful legend, Tristan is determined to apply it to his own life — specifically, to his personal quest to find the mysterious cab driver.
“I have to think that fairy tales, like stereotypes, have their foundations in truth,” says Tristan. “And if that is so, then a love story can bloom from a simple, immediate, human connection.”
Meanwhile, as Tristan searches for his Indian lover, his best friend, Jan (Marcy Harriell), who works at the reptile house in the zoo, is having a life-altering experience of her own with snakes and lovers. The dear girl has somehow got it into her head that she is the doppelganger of an Indian princess named Kadeeshya. Certainly something out of the ordinary is going on with her, since after whispering some magic words (“May no glasslike heart remain unshattered”) she becomes involved in a menage a trois with zoo attendant Craig (Narayan) and Russian photographer Viktor (Henderson).
Is that mysticism — or luck? “Whatever,” she says. “Don’t question the spell — just enjoy the magic, right?”
There is really no need to go into all the permutations of Dudley’s fanciful story, except to say that it ends with a radiant Tristan basking in his discovery that love is all about establishing fluid connections between different people and their cultures. At least, that’s what the play seems to be about — if it isn’t just about finding a nice boyfriend for Tristan.
For hard-hearted cynics, or anyone who doesn’t like snakes, all this woozy romanticism would surely be unbearable, were it not for the charm of this production. Doubling and tripling in their roles, the youthful thesps are as intrepid as they are endearing.
In playing the comic aspects of their excitable characters, Henderson (“The Mistakes Madeline Made”) and Harriell (“Lennon”) never lose sight of their innocence, while Narayan (“Bombay Dreams”) manages to maintain his dignity as his multiple characters are thrust into a number of undignified situations.
Schweizer has a helming history that includes beaucoup opera credits, which means he has plenty of experience working with unwieldy material. Bumping up the lights, he keeps the aud smiling with the cheerful attitude and bright touches of whimsy he brings to the script.
To contain the disjointed scenes, set designer Andrew Lieberman carves up the stage with helpful directional tape, translucent screens and overhead neon lights. And for that little touch of magic, there are temple bells and drop-down lanterns.