In a recent interview, Terrence McNally called same-sex marriage, “the final civil right,” adding, “It’s all talk until it’s legal.” His new play, “Some Men,” presents glimpses of gay relationships as they have evolved over the past 80 years, purportedly leading toward the goal of same-sex marriage. But without narrative coherence or developed characters, the show seems more like a stroll down memory lane for the pre-Stonewall crowd.
It is unclear what this play’s purpose is or who its intended audience is. “Some Men” seems to be a history lesson, a kind of After-School Special for heterosexuals who know about gay men only via the stereotypes that feed prejudice and homophobia and assume all gay men are promiscuous, body-obsessed show queens who adore Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland.
But instead of dispelling these stereotypes, the show trades on them. We meet many characters, of varied ages, but they don’t talk about their jobs; they apparently read no books except the Bible; they never go to the movies or vote in elections, discover restaurants, read newspapers, go to museums, play sports or worry about the state of the world. Their only conversational subject is their own homosexuality. If McNally wants us to take these men seriously, he certainly makes it difficult.
There are brief bits of real dramatic writing, such as an older couple on a park bench after two callow and judgmental “gender-studies majors from Vassar” have interviewed them about “the way it was.” And there is a touching moment when a drag queen sings “Over the Rainbow” in a piano bar as the Stonewall protests are happening across the street.
But a scene with four same-sex dads meeting in an airport becomes merely a quip, and the funeral of a dead soldier becomes an excuse for a cheap “friend of Dorothy” in-joke.
All the dramatic cliches are there: the gathering at the bedside of the dying AIDS patient, the husband telling his wife of 10years he’s gay (her hateful response — revealing something about how heterosexual women are portrayed here — is, “I hope you get cancer and die”), the nasty lies of a gay Internet chatroom, towel-dropping in the bathhouse, the group therapy confessions.
The very structure of the play — 15 chronologically random scenes jumping from 1973 to 1932 to 1967, etc. — means the history is not told or the characters developed. Without individual personalities, the men seem to be illustrations on a timeline rather than human beings, and the play makes its points by telling rather than showing.
The cast is consistently good, but Philip Himberg’s staging, employing screens going up and down, merely adds to the show’s incoherence. A few narrative threads tie a few of the scenes together, but the play lacks a dramatic center.
The songs that illustrate the scenes are obvious and sentimental, including “Amazing Grace,” sung by a woman in a white gown on an elevated platform against twinkly stars; “Like a Virgin,” danced by a boy who has just confessed his love; and, for the conclusion, “Always” as the entire cast reassembles and says, “I do.” And, of course, there is the inevitable “It’s Raining Men.”