Beach Blanket Bust

Actor-director-writer Chuck Blasius draws on tried-and-true antecedents for his new play, I Could Say More: in the vein of The Boys in the Band, a group of ostensible friends (but not all gay) gather, and in the process a lot of dirty laundry is aired. The bringing together of characters of disparate backgrounds goes back at least as far as Vicki Baum’s Grand Hotel, while the summer house setting (by Clifton Chadick) has been used effectively by Richard Greenberg in Eastern Standard; by Terrence McNally in Love! Valour! Compassion!; and by Chuck Ranberg in the charmingly nostalgic End of the World Party. At the Hudson Guild Theatre, however, a pall of staleness clings to this tedious, overlong production.

Blasius himself plays Carl, a writer facing midlife crisis who is one of the hosts. He has recently married his boyfriend of 15 years, Drew (Brett Douglas), and they have a son, Jason (Brandon Smalls). Carl and Drew are playing host to Drew’s middle-aged slacker brother Phil (Grant James Varjas), for whom Carl carries an inexplicable torch, and Phil’s date for the weekend, an easygoing "himbo" named Dyson (Frank Delessio) — although Phil has a husband who is working back in New York. Also present are Keith McDermott’s Skip, an older gay man of refinement and sensitivity who has worked as a director, and his foreign-born wife of many years, Rakel (Monique Vukovic), with whom he has a child from a heterosexual liaison (rather like La Cage aux Folles). Last to arrive are Lila (Kate Hodge), a hard-drinking longtime friend, and Joe (Robert Gomes), her brand-new, heavily tattooed working-class boyfriend who has a habit of mouthing politically incorrect observations — notably about Jason’s mixed race — but who has a fundamental decency.

Blasius does himself no favors by directing and acting in his own play; at times he drops vowels and his diction is muddy; scenes of overlapping dialogue in which he participates make neither conversation intelligible; and, given that Carl is a shrill, controlling martinet, the role requires an actor of much more charisma than the playwright possesses for an audience to warm to him. Carl’s obnoxiousness may be due to recently giving up drinking and smoking, but without sensing something pleasant in the character, an audience has no reason to care about him.

That lack of empathy strains the believability of the central relationship. Douglas’s Drew is a charming, self-effacing, yet unexpectedly strong partner, and clearly a doting father; it’s baffling that he would stay with Carl, or be attracted to him in the first place.

Much the same problem applies to Phil; Varjas swings between sullenness and recalcitrance. Blasius, however, has at least written some good speeches and scenes for the other cast members, and there’s a strong sense of the frayed fraternal bond between Drew and Phil, who are held together only by an inheritance that hasn’t been processed yet. In a play about gay relationships, one is conditioned to expect a good deal of bitchy humor, but there’s a dearth of it here. Occasionally a line brings a solid laugh, but the dourness of the proceedings overwhelms any lightness.

The complications that arise sometimes strain credibility. Carl hasn't planned dinner, so there are complaints of nothing to eat. (Strangely, the next day he claims to have “all this food from last night.”) Dyson is vegan, which would require that he communicate it in advance to his prospective hosts, not spring it on them. When Phil and Dyson want to go to a nearby gay bar but have been drinking, Drew refuses to give them his car keys. Yet one is expected to believe that Dyson, a complete stranger, steals the keys and goes anyway. 

Fortunately, McDermott, Gomes and Vukovic excel in lending varied dimensions to their characters. In particular, Vukovic brings a sense of painfully won wisdom to Rakel, who is being treated for breast cancer.

Brian Tovar’s lighting is well done, but too much is required of it in the plodding last scenes of the play, as the summer drags on and Carl lingers alone in a funk. In fact, by the time I Could Say More ends, one is relieved that nothing is left to say.

I Could Say More runs through Feb. 1 at the Hudson Guild Theatre, 441 W 26th St., between 9th and 10th Avenues. Performances are at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and at 7 p.m. on Sunday; there is a special Monday performance at 8 p.m. on Jan. 27. Tickets may be ordered by calling 866-811-4111 or 212-352-3101 or visiting othersideproductions.org.

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