Tying the Knot – I’ve Come Undone
A REVIEW BY THE BAD ORACLE
Sitting in the dark watching Tying the Knot at Fells Point Corner Theater I thought: there is a good play here. A man who has identified as gay for his entire adult life suddenly announces that he is going to marry a woman. So many chewy themes: validity, identity, erasure. The betrayed feelings of a community that has supported you, perhaps even working through their own issues to do so, turning when they feel like you’ve “opted out”, taken the easy road. The exasperating way that people have of deciding for themselves what is and isn’t their business. Unfortunately, James R. Beller Jr.’s Tying the Knot is not that play. Tying the Knot is about a gay man (in obvious and complete denial from the first second we see him) who decides he’s going to marry a woman as a result of a failed relationship with his last boyfriend. It’s obviously a bad idea, his family and friends tell him it’s a bad idea and he realizes it’s a bad idea. Fifteen minutes or less of material somehow takes up an astonishing two and half hours. This is largely due to the excruciatingly long scenes that take place mostly at dinner tables. We watch, in real time, as Michael (Brian Kraszewski) explains the situation to his best friend, Lance (J. Hargrove) and then again, at the same fucking table (it’s supposed to be a different restaurant, but it’s in the exact same part of the stage and it’s almost the exact same fucking scene, so) to his mother, Arlene (Nancy Blum). Before you ask, no, at no point does anyone mention that, uh, bisexuality is a thing. Lance and Arlene are both yawning stereotypes where characters should be. You can actually check off every single one, if you want: Arlene is a Park Avenue Lucille Bluth, ordering martinis (check), complaining about her Jewish ex-husband (check), making wisecracks about said ex-husband’s new side piece and her botched plastic surgery (checkcheck). Lance is similar, a gay man who is more a collection of penis jokes than an actual human being. And, lest you think that those are the only stereotypes that Beller, Jr. employs, fear not! There are many, many more, including “only straight guys know about cars”, “only gay guys know about purses,” “only Asian kids are good at music” and “gay men cheat”. That last one is used as weeeeak justification for Michael to take back David (Felix Hernandez) his unfaithful ex-boyfriend (who, as we are told is perfect, the best Michael has ever had, which, in light of David’s betrayal, makes it look like his family and friends are totally gaslighting him). The length is not aided by director Daniel Douek’s largely static staging, which has the actors sitting in the same place for, I kid you not, over an hour at a time. Seriously, the scenes are so long that the actors occasionally forget what the hell they’re supposed to be talking about (Is Michael’s female fiancé a podiatrist or a dermatologist? Oh, who the fuck cares, let’s just get to the end of this fucking scene). Douek also favors some truly goofy “way back machine”-like effects for the flashback sequences to Michael and David’s relationship, which, well. If they were supposed to make me giggle, they did. As a lead, Kraszewski is fine, he’s fine, if miscast. He does his best work when he’s playing someone a little left of center – his bone structure hints at something weird and wonderful. We loved him in this spring’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at Spotlighters and I also thought he did some marvelous work in The Last Days of Judas Iscariat several seasons ago at Mobtown Players. But he doesn’t seem settled into this straight (no pun intended!) role, and at times comes off ill-at-ease. In other words, he’s a Depp, not a Hanks. What it really needed was an actor who gets into plumbing the hidden depths of an Everyman, maybe a David Shoemaker, for instance. I thought J. Hargrove was the best at navigating the terribly trite role he was given and making a go of Lance and, it must be said, he was clearly an audience favorite. There were a couple of great surprises in the cast, however: Hernandez, despite the thinness of his part and his relative inexperience, is refreshingly unaffected and genuine. Oh, and can we just talk about Claire Malkie for a sec? She has the teensiest of roles as the restaurant server and, let me tell, she really brought it to the table. She’s hilarious, a full-bodied actor with, I can tell, a range. I can’t wait to see her in something else.
THE BOTTOM LINE: I have no doubt that everyone involved with Tying the Knot had the very best of intentions. But the script is so long, the dialogue so repetitive and the jokes so played that it’s hard for the cast and crew to overcome and, in the end, they couldn’t.
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