5/6/2023 SUPPORT GROUP FOR MEN Horizon Theatre
It’s Thursday Night, so the guys are gathered at Roger’s apartment for their weekly ritual, a chance to vent and kvetch in a judgment-free space. The apartment is above a sports bar, a hang-out for jocks and frat boys and a hotbed of toxic masculinity. Less than a block away is an LBGTQ community, so the potential for friction is, well, toxic.
But here, it’s safe. The guys talk about their jobs, their “significant others,” their befuddlement at the fast changes society seems to be forcing on them. Three are “of a certain age,” so the concepts of “gender fluidity” and “What are your pronouns?” is as alien as their own choices in hair and music were to their parents.
But the fourth member of their group, Kevin, is a young co-worker of Roger (who, BTW, has the distinction of being the oldest employee at the Apple store). Kevin is able to bring some perspective to the proceedings, and it being a judgment-free zone, is able to bring some understanding to his new old(er) friends.
Things get blown apart quickly when they witness a “beat down” of a young red-headed woman in the alley below the window, and they discover the woman is really Alejandro, a young man in drag. And now the group has a fifth!
This is a very funny, very pointed play about the changing norms facing men today. Set shortly after the 2017 Women’s March, it’s notable that the issues raised are still very relevant in today’s culture war ethos. Unlike too many of
today’s state legislatures, this group of men has no problem beginning to accept new gender roles, accepting a gender spectrum rather than the traditional hard-set dichotomy.
This play was written by Ellen Fairey, who (I assume – traditional paradigm alert) identifies as female. I would be lying if I say I wasn’t expecting a from-the-outside view of men, a collection of stereotypes and man-splaining man-spreading (*) caricatures. Instead, she gives us sympathetic portrayals of men who are really wanting to “do the right thing,” to embrace the “right” attitudes, and, most important, to have each other’s backs. It’s possible there’s some female fantasy fulfillment going on here – wouldn’t it be great if men were REALLY like this? – but these characters are written with such affection and grace and skill, that, fantasy or not, they are real to us and to the world of this play. Even the “worst” of them, an obnoxious police officer investigating the alley altercation, eventually comes across as not beyond redemption.
The play wears its sense of humor proudly, letting the guys tease themselves with pseudo-macho grunts and rituals even as they’re sipping the delightful pink wine provided by Roger’s partner, Abby. You know the “talking stick” is really a pimped-out baseball bat that tries (and semi-sorta fails) to culturally appropriate some indigenous American totems. You know they’re all going to try on Alejandro’s (stunning) red wig just to “see how it feels.” You know Del will eventually leave to form his own group (“I’m tired of being the black friend.”) And you know the brisk and sharp female cop will eventually be accepted and included. (A “few months later” coda provides a sweet and moving cap to each of the guys’ stories. Well, not so much a “cap” as a “here’s where they are now, so try to guess what’s next.”)
One reason this production works so well is because co-directors Jeff Adler and Matt Mercurio have gathered a cast that clicks on every level – as individual characters and as an ensemble. Each takes full advantage of their scripted “moments center stage” and all take full advantage of the many group interactions – it’s easy to accept them as friends (even as NEW friends) and as co-workers. Louis Kyper (Brian), Evan Bergman (Roger), Marcus Hopkins-Turner (Del), and Sariel Toribio (Kevin) gel immediately as the core group. As the “visitors” to the sanctum sanctorum, Roberto Méndez (Alejandro), Suehyla E. Young (Officer Caruso **), and Brad Brinkley (Officer Nowak) take full advantage of their limited on-stage time to create full and (eventually) appealing characters, They all romp and kvetch in a terrific apartment-set by the always excellent Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay.
Support Group for Men is a winning and compelling look at the kind of men who are the antithesis of what we come to expect in the era of #MeToo. It gives us a respite from the worst that mankind has to offer. It would, in fact, make a marvelous pilot for a “Must-See TV” bingeworthy series. And, for once, it made me feel unashamed of my own pronouns. Which, for the record, are “I, Me, and Mine.”
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com #htcSupportGroupForMen)
(*) Okay, there is some “man-spreading” going on, but it’s a big sofa so no one is actually inconvenienced.
(**) Ms. Young alternates in this role with the always welcome-to-any-stage Kelly Criss.
PS – I’ll probably get into trouble for this, but my own problem with pronoun-identity is linguistic and grammar-based. English is one of the few languages in which gender isn’t purely grammatical, and the change in pronouns can wreak havoc with subject/verb agreement – do you use a singular verb when “they” refers to a single person? Somehow “They is gender-fluid” sounds (and should be), just wrong. For one review a few years ago, I was tasked with an actor with one set of pronouns playing a character with another. NOT using any pronouns (the safe approach) would have been awkward and wooden. For those of us who strive for clarity of expression, it does present a challenge. I’m working on it ….