(l to r) Cindy Cheung, Dolly Wells, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Phillip James Brannon in ‘Log Cabin.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus)
Confession. I’ve often been known to mumble “Yaaas!,” “Oh, guuurl,” and other gay-centric expletives under my breath as gay boys prance through my neighborhood, which over the last 20 years, has become Manhattan’s über queer epicenter. I do this to pay tribute to my LGBTQIABCDEF brethren. And also to mock them. It probably comes from being pushed around the back of a bus during my formative years or my never-healed resentment against Kristi Jacobs for not French kissing me at an eighth grade Halloween party. Maybe if she had, I wouldn’t have turned out gay. Not true.
These social patterns and memories have been rumbling around my lavender-tinged brain this weekend as New York City celebrated Pride with its usual Nicholas Nickleby-length parade and Log Cabin opened at Playwrights Horizons. The latest in a series of new works and revivals portraying different facets of the queer experience, including Angels in America, Sugar in Our Wounds, and The Boys in the Band, Jordan Harrison’s new play explores the evolving relationships of two couples—one gay, the other lesbian—and how they interface with each other, their communities, and the world at large during a five-year period from 2012 through 2017.
It’s a calculated timeframe, fraught with sweeping changes for the LGBTQ community, from the striking down of DOMA to the federal legalization of same-sex marriage, and culminating in the election of, well… you know whom. Within this construct, we meet Ezra (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and his black boyfriend/eventual husband Chris (Philip James Brannon); and Pam (Cindy Cheung) and Jules (Dolly Wells). They gather over a series of scenes that mostly take place in the ladies’ posh Brooklyn apartment, where they leadingly riff on their bourgeois lives.
Henry (Ian Harvie), an old friend of Ezra’s, enters the picture, along with his millennial girlfriend Myna (Talene Monahon). The only catch is that Henry was once Helen and Ezra is having a hard time with the transition. Not in a manner that questions Henry’s right to transition from female to male, rather, from the perspective that Ezra (a writer) feels a growing intolerance from the transgender community towards those who might be stumbling over pronouns and other newly forming social mores. Emily Post, where are you now? In the midst of it all, Pam and Jules have had a baby, and in several dreamlike scenes, the adults interact with the child, also portrayed by Harvie, who speaks with the wisdom of a 21st-century oracle. Oh, and throw in some infidelities from both couples for good measure.
Harrison, a Pulitzer Prize finalist for Marjorie Prime, attempts to tackle sweeping themes both intimate and societal with varying degrees of success. The talented cast ably handles his dialogue, though, at the performance I saw, overlapping lines had yet to fall into an organic rhythm. Each feels like the 1.0 version of a fully realized person as the plot churns along and cheese plates fly off the kitchen table in a rage. Interesting debates ensue, though, such as Chris’s argument that being a black cisgender male is a notch lower on the totem bowl (perhaps a racist analogy argued in a cut scene) than a passable white transgender man:
How does that help me when I walk into a store and the manager follows me around; when I try to get a cab. I’m a faggot in Harlem and I’m a “thug” in white Brooklyn…
How is any of that cis? How is that “on this side of”? No matter where I am, it’s the other side of.
Allen Moyer’s turntable set, beautifully lit by Russell H. Champs, has all the trappings of an A-list production, but its sluggish rotation magnifies unnecessarily lengthy transitions and an oddly stagnant pace under the direction of Pam MacKinnon, which forces moments of gravitas.
Still, Harrison is able to dig his heels into a how a community defined by its ability to rise up and fight nevertheless manages to compartmentalize itself in a way that heeds progress. The heels are dug so deep, though, that Log Cabin feels stuck in the mire of its own making.
Playwrights Horizons Mainstage Theater
416 West 42nd Street
Through July 15
Matthew Wexler is The Broadway’s Blog editor. And for the record, he’s not mad anymore at Kristi Jacobs. Read more of his work at wexlerwrites.com.