Gay theatre can sometimes be about as good as gay feature films, and that is to say, not so good. Frequently there’s a lot of overacting and cloying earnestness that is not only embarrassing, but exhibits a lack a complexity much needed in the genre.
I’m happy to say the new play CAUGHT by David L. Ray overcomes these pitfalls and presents a gay-themed play that raises questions that aren’t always easy to answer. While it sometimes veers toward earnestness, the cast expertly sidesteps these moments bringing the characters to life without making us want to roll our eyes at them.
Set in Los Angeles, CAUGHT opens with two men preparing for their impending nuptials. (The play takes place in 2008 when this sort of thing was legal.) Troy (Will Beinbrink) is a confident professional who exerts a little too much control over his partner Kenneth (Corey Brill) who is more relaxed about things, including his relationship. That is until his Christian conservative sister calls and says she’s coming (that same day) to LA with her teenage daughter.
Not having ever really accepted her brother’s lifestyle “choice,” her visit couldn’t happen at a worse time and this throws the couple into a spiral of issues they haven’t totally worked out. Kenneth wants to hide their relationship, making Troy put away gay-themed objects (including his artwork) and make sure that they don’t get affectionate in front of his sister. Troy just wants Kenneth to come clean about everything and not hide him or their commitment to each other.
When his sister Darlene (Deborah Puette) arrives, she is the quintessential Bible-thumper, Bible actually clutched in her hand wearing a long, conservative dress and with an expression of fear and worry plastered on her face. She is a southern woman through and through, and it’s clear that this life is all she’s ever known. She is not privy to other lifestyles and experiences so in a way, she can’t be blamed for who she is.
That said, her eighteen-year old daughter Krystal (Amanda Kaschak) immediately knows the deal and is super-excited to not only have a gay uncle, but to be able to experience all LA has to offer, including the more elusive things she is so curious about. Within hours she is ready to move to the city of angels and start a life there, much to the chagrin of her controlling mother.
Things go bad quickly as the two men continue to keep their wedding a secret from Darlene and their opinions about homosexuality with Darlene clash. But Darlene isn’t there just for a vacation, and soon enough we realize just what is up with her. And it puts everyone’s idea of what is right and wrong (Biblically speaking) into greater perspective.
While this is a play that touches on distinctly gay issues, it tells a more personal story that is relatable to a wide group of people. While Darlene might be laughable to some, she quickly becomes a well-rounded character who is a victim of what she’s been taught. And when some truths about her own family are brought to the surface, she has to rethink everything she thought she knew. Hers is the most compelling character in CAUGHT and actress Puette brings her to vivid and heartbreaking life.
The whole cast of the play (expertly directed by Nick DeGruccio) is excellent. Aside from Puette, another stand-out is Kaschak as her daughter. What could have been just a silly character, Kaschak makes Krystal wholly likable and quite fun to watch. Brill as the confused Kenneth is also quite good, bringing a depth to the conflict he faces between his sister and his partner. Micha McCain as the men’s sassy best friend Splenda is always a hoot (he was in the equally great play “Title of Show”) and Richard Jenik as Darlene’s preacher husband is appropriately infuriating as a man who doesn’t exactly live by the word he preaches. (Shocking, I know.) Beinbrick is alternately likable and not-so-likeable as partner Troy, but this doesn’t come from his performance, it’s more how he was written. He was a little nit-picky and controlling and I kinda’ didn’t think the two were a match, but that’s just me. I also had a bit of a crush on Kenneth so in my mind, I was competing. (*wink wink)
Adding to the performances is a lovely set by Adam Flemming and expert lighting by Lisa D. Katz. All in all, this is a show to seek out for the issues it raises and for the actors that make it brilliantly come alive.
It’s interesting that this play is called CAUGHT. Part of the reason for that title can’t be revealed as it would be a spoiler, but it’s apropos for the subject. Many times I’ve questioned the church’s stance on homosexuality and gay marriage only to have the Jesus Wall come up and the conversation ends. Why I can never get a real answer to my concerns and questions is beyond me. Every answer I do get is vague and conflicting and when I logically point these things out, the conversation gets more muddled and is finally ended by the person who sides with the conservative religious viewpoint. It’s like they are “caught” in their ignorance (or sudden realization of the truth) and the discussion is over.
The truth is, my questions are simple:
- Why is homosexuality apparently the worst sin in the Bible when it’s mentioned only a few times, yet the abominations of divorce and infidelity get more airtime. When are we stoning the divorced?
- Why are shellfish, mold, and a cotton/wool blend hunky-dory when, per the Bible, they are just as much a sin as “laying with another man?”
- What about lesbians? It seems they are a-okay because they don’t get a shout-out in the Good Book.
- Why do some religious people believe that marriage was created by God for procreation when in fact it is a documented fact that it was created as a contract to bind two families?
- If homosexuality and its inherent evil are so bad, why does Jesus not mention it at all?
- Did you know that the word “homosexual” did not appear in any version of the Bible until the 1950’s when it was used in place of a Greek word that no-one knew the translation of? Not to mention, in the Greek language there was no word for homosexual, so how some translator got the go-ahead to use the word and make it stick is beyond me.
- Just how do conservatives think gay marriage will bring about the fall of the institution? Hasn’t divorce already ruined it? Again, why are we not picketing divorce courts and throwing rocks at anyone who has ended their marriage?
- Of course, most of those against homosexuality only see the word “sex” here, so that is what they consider to be the biggest sin of it all. But my word, the acts performed by gay people are also performed by straight people so stop looking down your noses at something ya’ll do!
- As for children being “taught” homosexuality in schools. I’m not sure what the agenda would be as I never had a class in heterosexuality, but if what is taught is the fact that two people of the same sex can fall in love and get married, well, that’s a pretty short lesson. If gay marriage is legal then the teacher would simply be stating a fact. I can’t imagine there would be a class on it. Like I said, I never had a class in straight marriage. Not to mention, most kids today could care less if someone is gay. It’s their ignorant parents that teach them to hate based on a book they don’t understand.
- Which brings me to my next question. How can you talk about the Bible when you really don’t understand it? The Bible is a historical document that reflects the times it was written in. For example, the Bible seems to say masturbation is wrong, yet at the time the Bible was written people thought the “egg” of a potential child was in the sperm. A women’s uterus was just the receptacle for that egg which is what sex was for. So if you masturbated, you didn’t allow that egg to become a baby. Hence… it was wrong to please yourself. The same goes for homosexuality. There was a population issue and the law was that you should be helping populate the world, so if you a man slept with a man rather than a woman, he wasn’t helping the situation. (Again, where are the lesbians in this discussion?)
- Most importantly… why do you care? My relationship with a man and/or my marriage to a man will not affect your life at all. At all. Yes, you might see two men in the mall holding hands, but I assure you, you will not spontaneously explode or suffer some sort of preternatural convulsion.
So while I’m certainly preaching to the choir by writing this, I wonder if someone can intelligently answer these questions. The sad fact is, I don’t think it will happen, mostly because by having to really look at the facts presented, it will cause a shake-up of a religious person’s faith which is something they won’t want to do. Which is sad, because I think it’s high-time we as a human race started thinking for ourselves. It’s time to question what is right and what is important in this world. All this back and forth bickering and constant stroking of our egos is setting the human race back thousands of years. We aren’t evolving anymore, we are regressing into idiocy.
Hopefully this awakening that is supposed to happen in 2012 will actually happen, because we need it. The gay issue is just a small part of how messed up our world has become. We’ve forgotten how to respect and love each other. We’ve forgotten that we shouldn’t judge others because nothing is black and white or has an easy answer. We all have a depth to us that makes us act the way we act, which is why I have compassion for conservative people that I don’t agree with. Their opinion is all they know. It’s what they were taught. Yes, we can say that they now have the choice to change their opinion, but when they really don’t think there are any other options, how can we damn them? We can hope they educate themselves and try to understand, but shouldn’t we have compassion, even when we are angry or hurt?
I personally have a few relatives and friends who are very conservative and very Christian. While I have distanced myself from Christianity and organized religion as a whole, I respect their beliefs even when they are wholly against mine and cause damage to my life. Why? Because I agree with the teachings of “God,” whoever or whatever he might be. (I prefer to think of it as just energy – like “The Force.”) We are here to love and respect. And while I get really angry at the ignorance and stupidity of those that want to limit my rights and show me a lack of respect, I also try to see where they are coming from. In their eyes, they are trying to save us out of love. They believe we are going to hell and they desperately don’t want that to happen. So in that ignorance, there is a weird, distorted compassion. As misdirected as it may be… as horribly as it might be expressed…. it’s funny to see that there might actually be a loving reason for their madness.
In CAUGHT, Kenneth’s sister is so fearful for her brother’s lifestyle, she constantly prays for him to overcome it. She clearly doesn’t understand there is no choice involved and hasn’t taken the time to understand him and homosexuality as a whole. But in that she is still loving her brother. In a strange way, her heart is in the right place.
And like those I know that are the same, maybe one day they will be “caught,” too. Caught in the realization that it might be time to reassess their beliefs. That way they can start living the way God has asked them to live. Without judgment. And with only love for all living things.
CAUGHT is playing at the Zephyr Theatre, Los Angeles through January 23rd.
For more information, go to www.Caughttheplay.com