Saturday, September 14, 2019

The Games We Play

Forrest Gump was wrong. Life is like a game of chess. We play by the rules, and the roles - king, queen, rook and pawn - are set by a society that likes order and conformity. But what happens when there are too many queens, or the pawn makes an unexpected move? The board is upended and we are left crawling on our hands and knees to reassemble the pieces into love....messy, complicated, chaotic. But real.

It is 1979 and Act One of Falsettos opens with the quartet of Marvin (Matt Shofner), Whizzer (Durron Marquis Tyre), Jason (Rowan Sharma) and Mendel (Dan Cimo) romping around the stage bitching about their quirky, unconventional lives. The opening musical number, "Four Jews in a Room Bitching," is hilarious, and upbeat, and sets the bar high - fantastic singing and lightening-paced choreography.

Marvin is a self-absorbed, rich business man who has left his wife, Trina (Casey Payne) and their son Jason for his gay lover Whizzer. Add in Mendel (Dan Cimo) who is Marvin's therapist and you've got a complicated game-board. Which gets even more complicated when Mendel falls in love with Trina, and neurotic Marvin loses a his shrink.

Bring the tissues for Act Two. By now we are invested in the characters - warts and all - It is 1981 and so much has changed in three years. Marvin has matured. He lives in an apartment where Jason spends his weekends, befriends the neighboring lesbian couple (Kelsey Cordroy as Dr. Charlotte and Rachel Marrs as Cordelia) and co-parents Jason with Trina and Mendel. This cobbled-together chosen family has completely captured our hearts as we build towards Jason's Bar Mitzvah. But by 1981 the landscape has changed in the gay community and something bad is happening. Dr. Charlotte is increasingly distressed by the patterns she is seeing as a hospital internist. When Whizzer collapses during a game of racketball the frightening, mysterious disease hits close to home.

Falsettos is marvelous. Bravo to Debra Clinton for directing and choreographing one of the most moving pieces of musical theatre I've seen. I was 11 in 1981. But 10 years later I would lose my dear friend Chris to A.I.D.S. For those of us in the audience who have experienced that devastating loss, Falsettos takes on a deeper level of meaning.

The performances never let up. As an ensemble the cast of Falsettos is the Gary Kasparov of musical theatre. And each individual performance was stellar. I sat next to Rowan Sharma's mom. She commented on the pressure of being the only kid in a show full of superbly talented actors. Ms. Sharma, Rowan held his own every step and note of the way.

There was no one standout performance; each actor had their own standout moment: Shofner's angelic voice soared with "I Never Wanted to Love You," Ms. Payne gutted me with "I'm Breaking Down," and I'm still not over Tyre's "You Gotta Die Sometime."

My only issue with the show was with the set. It felt cobbled together, too. I'm sure the crooked, empty frames on the walls the characters rearranged from time to time had a purpose. But I didn't get it.

Falsettos earned every second of the standing ovation. This morning my heart is still aching, but is more full, too. Here's to upending the game board of life and crawling on our knees through the muck and stink and chaos of life. Here's to upending our prescribed roles, and turning the game of life into a song of love.

Falsettos continues through October 5 at Richmond Triangle Players' Robert B. Moss Theatre. To purchase tickets, click here.


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