The title of Marshall Mayes's play is taken from a line in poet Paul Monette's autobiography. It refers to that exultant feeling he invariably experiences whenever a fellow gay person emerged from the closet into the world of sunlight. Mayes's work is, not coincidentally, a chronicle of his own path to self-acceptance and that of his loved ones.
The script covers his coming out to his friends, finding (and splitting from) his first steady lover, and dealing with one particular straight friend toward whom his feelings are ambiguous.
It must be acknowledged that this has become very familiar territory over the past decade or so; but, then again, so have many plays about the vicissitude of straight relationships. A view of a gay individual this frank, and unapologetic, and emotionally healthy would have been far more significant in a play in the mid-'70s, say. Here, nothing new is brought to the material in terms of insight or dramatic structure. Mayes's real accomplishment, though, is in making such familiar turf a splendidly enjoyable place to visit. He uses his own life well in setting up the rising action of the pilot and makes his observations in an ingratiating manner and without pretension. (This latter quality is seen in the especially charming device of quasi-Brechtian asides to the audience about his choices in writing the script.)
Some lines are a bit too amateurishly clever ("I thought the truth would go down better with pasta primavera"). And there was one glaring structural inconsistency when, in addition to having Mayes's surrogate central character address the audience directly, his straight friend and love object Ken did so, too. After setting up that this is to be a reflection of his own inner thoughts, Mayes confused the matter by making the audience privy to Ken's, as well.
But, as previously stated, there was an abundance of very engaging talent on stage. The show's biggest asset was Mayes himself in his self-portrayal. He had an instantly endearing, awkward charm and his likability never sagged for a moment. (It will be interesting to see how actors other than the playwright interpret the role.) As Mayes's sexually pushy, flamingly out friend, Laz, Frank Collerius walked home with the show equally for his stylish comedy as for his well-played moments of self-doubt and revelation. Brian Noodt proved himself much more than just a shallow pretty boy as Mayes's first lover. Cynthia Firi made an earnest and appealing friend to whom the central character initially comes out. And Mitchell Riggs offered a solid presence and a very believable emotional center to his role as Mayes's longtime friend as he works out his conflicted feelings toward him. Only Constance Pachl misfired as a stereotypical, gratingly "loud" faghag. She painfully overacted in an already overwritten part, the sole cliche in Mayes's text.
Michael Allen's set design was smartly done, with sliding flats establishing scene changes efficaciously. Fritz Masten's costuming choices were understated and observant, from Pachl's Margo wearing six bracelet on each wrist to Laz's club kid kilt. Robert Perry's lighting was, at times, a bit too shadowy. But it made for some nice compositions.
Dance in the Giddy Circle has enough things going for it that it is well worth catching, should it reappear. Seeing it may not produce any blinding revelations, but a consistent warm feeling and genuinely earned empathy were provided throughout the show. It is an often funny, always fetching work by an utterly charming talent.
Copyright 1996 John Michael Koroly
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