I was completely smitten with the world premiere play Le Switch from the About Face Theatre company. This deliciously witty and remarkably topical dramedy deals with the crossroads the gay community currently finds itself in. No longer the fringe outcasts, yet not quite the suburban ideal either. Chicago writer Philip Dawkins is definitely on a roll, following his endearing Charmed which played at Steppenwolf’s Garage Theatre in 2015, this new piece is exquisitely written, skillfully acted and as thought-provoking as it is adorable. A modern twist on When Harry Met Sally for a decidedly queer audience, I am triumphing this sensational winning character study and am trumpeting with high hopes a few, very well deserved show extensions. Director Stephen Brackett skillfully creates moments of quiet amorousness as well as thunderously, laugh out loud, raucous comic delights, of which there are many.
Set during the two years surrounding the Supreme Court’s 2014 ruling allowing Same-Sex Marriage equality, we begin our tale meeting David Feinberg (The always winning Stephen Cone) Professor of Library Sciences. In other words, a librarian. A quirky chap with amazing hair, he collects first editions of rare books, but then refuses to open them. To say this mid-thirties New York City urbanite is as tightly wound as his favorite books are bound would be an understatement. The story initiates as David is being fitted for an orange and purple custom made tux, as he is soon to be the Best Man in a gay wedding. Putting his serious commitment issues aside for just a fleeting moment, David’s best friend, the flamboyantly over-the-top, yet delightfully grounded Zachary (La Shawn Banks) is having nothing of his friend’s issues. The perfect solution, a bachelor party bash in Canada. On his way to join the party, David meets the adorable twenty-something, bilingual florist, named Benoit (Collin Quinn Rice) who turns David’s world on its proverbial ear. This young man may not have a phone, but he certainly knows how to push David’s buttons. The two quickly fall in…….like. Oh David and his silly commitment issues. Their first night together in Montreal is a delight for the senses. Benoit navigates David to the top of a hill to look out over the grandeur of his country. When Benoit inquires about life in New York, David quips “Manhattan is a looking in place” and quickly wisecracks “Manhattan is a lippy bitch.”
Rounding out this terrific cast, Elizabeth Ledo plays David’s twin sister Sarah, suffering a bigger plight then David’s anxiety toward commitment. Her own heteronormalcy! She has fallen in love with her husband of 10 years, despite the fact they were only married so he could obtain a green card. “Don’t tell Mom” she laments “I don’t want to do anything that would make her feel proud of me.” The final character in this mix, Frank (Mitchell J. Fain) the elder gay activist who came of age when homosexuality was considered a largely unsavory society. Turned out, he liked it that way. He found comfort and love in the darker under belly of NYC.
“Why pick a side when you can straddle?” is the question at heart here. What is the traditional vs. modern attitude toward Same-Sex Marriage and how has the fallout impacted the gay community? And what of David, struggling with his own queer sensibility, now realizing his identity and queer dogma is no longer on the fringes, it is mainstream! “Marriage is a ball of yarn” Zachary shares in a rather tender moment. “You have to make it into something.” When the inevitable marriage proposal comes from Benoit, how does David respond? You have to see the play to discover for yourself, but let’s just say there are reasons his hobby is colleting closed books with unending, undiscovered stories.
Highly likeable from beginning to end, Le Switch’s story and the talented cast step up splendidly to the challenge of making these people full characterizations and not just one note stereotypes. The clever set, designed by Joe Schermoly, quickly morphs from intimate living room to spacious mountainside. Costume designer David Hyman, works with all the colors in the box, painting David in restrained, rudimentary beiges and blues, his twin in unpretentious, earthy greens. Activist Frank in defiant black and Zachary in bold, glorious color. A charming and challenging comedy that stays with you long after seeing the piece, Le Switch is Très bien and magnifique! About Face Theatre is entering into its twentieth season with remarkable, highly enjoyable, stylized comic flair.
About Face Theatre’s Le Switch is now playing at Theater Wit through February 21, 2016