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Theatre in Review: The Waiting Game (Snowy Owl/59E59)

Julian Joseph, Marc Sinoway, Photo: Carol Rosegg.

There's plenty of waiting around but not much payoff in Charles Gershman's new drama, which features one of most pronounced lineups of basket cases to be seen this season. The script consists of fragmented scenes presented with little or no exposition -- like the works of Homer, it begins in medias res -- so it takes a while to find out what is causing everyone so much angst. By the time one does, we understand that the title is another term for death watch.

Paolo, a thirtyish photographer -- not that he ever seems to work -- appears in the first scene, fending off the attentions of Tyler, his younger boyfriend; indeed, as Tyler mentions his attempt to get hired at Outback Steakhouse, Paolo can barely follow the conversation, what with all those hits from a pipe filled with crystal meth. He certainly isn't interested in sex with Tyler, possibly because Tyler is the most underwritten character onstage, which, in this play, is saying something. The air is thick with unspoken thoughts; something is up, but what?

We get a clue when Paolo is discovered sitting in a hospital waiting room, glaring at Geoff, an apparent stranger; Geoff inquires if they know each other. As it happens, they don't, not really, but they share a common interest in Sam, who is Paolo's husband and Geoff's lover. Only he really isn't either, not anymore, since he is lying in a bed in Room 4B, to all intents and purposes brain-dead.

Apparently, one of the side effects of same-sex marriage is same-sex cheating. As Paolo recalls, Sam, a poet, "would say he was meeting some publisher or other, then he'd come home reeking of alcohol and cologne and burnt rubber and breath mints and try to jump in the shower before I could catch him." Geoff, who is a wiz at faking sympathy, murmurs, "I'm sorry. I mean, God, and you're married to him. So, oh God, I feel so bad even saying it. But Sam and I had a good thing going." Despite all of this, Paolo keeps protesting to Tyler that he and Sam had "ten beautiful years" together -- all of which begs the question of why Sam overdosed on his living room floor while carrying on with Geoff.

The conflict in The Waiting Game turns on Geoff's efforts to persuade Paolo to sign over the role of Sam's conservator; Geoff, in the interest of closure -- or perhaps because he feels Sam is his personal property -- wants to pull the plug, to put Sam out of his misery. Paolo, who can't let go of the past, resists. Ten beautiful years or not, he is left to wonder, mournfully, how he missed the evidence of Sam's heroin addiction, not to mention the fact that Sam hid his HIV-positive status. Geoff has HIV, too, which leads Paolo to ask, "Why should I have the privilege of health when so many people who are better than I am don't?" Tyler, getting fed up, replies, "I think you oughta be in some hospital somewhere getting electroshock therapy."

By this point, Tyler is starting to sound like the voice of reason. The Waiting Game lurches from one depressed encounter to another, with both Paolo and Geoff mooning over Sam, who hardly seems to merit the attention. Paolo never met a drug he didn't like, and even if he can't stand Geoff, he has to have unprotected sex with him, because I don't know why. The play exists in a cloud of anomie; like the recent Daniel's Husband, it demonstrates that giving a banal situation a same-sex twist doesn't add anything of interest. Soap opera is soap opera, whichever way you swing.

If Nathan Wright's direction feels stilted and the performances wooden, you can blame the script, a group portrait done entirely in shades of gray. All three principals struggle to make their dialogue sound plausible; we'll have to wait until another day to comment on their abilities. This production adds Sam as a presence who wanders around, striking poses upstage, a strategy that does little to explain his appeal. A twist in which Paolo becomes convinced that Sam is trying to reach him through social media is sub-Twilight Zone stuff, much better handled when Craig Lucas did it in The Dying Gaul twenty years ago.

The production design is basic, even for Theater C at 59E59. The most important contribution is Kat Sullivan's projections, which create intriguing collages of key words from the script, the letters becoming scrambled; Sullivan also delivers the online conversations that are crucial to the story. As titles go, The Waiting Game could easily apply to the audience, who spend seventy minutes waiting for something like drama to show up; like the characters onstage, they are likely to be disappointed. -- David Barbour

(13 February 2019)

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