Jonathan Tolins' Last Sunday in June, the final production of Know Theatre's 2005-06 season, is portrayed as a comedy. A play that ends with a character sobbing uncontrollably is hardly a laugh-fest, especially in light of the fact, as we've been told, "Gay plays always end happily."
Last Sunday goes out of its way to present and shatter stereotypes. Its central characters, flamboyant Tom (Juan Carlos Diaz) and understated Michael (Stephen Hunter), are a committed gay couple, together for seven years, who live on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, ground zero for gay culture in New York City. As the title tells us, it's the day for the annual Gay Pride parade, and they're watching from their apartment window as the parade goes by in all its gay glory.
Tom and Michael are feeling nostalgic because they've decided to move to quaint Nyack, N.Y., a historic (and assumedly straight) town on the Hudson River. As second thoughts abound and the parade continues, they're visited by a veritable rainbow of gay stereotypes. Joe (Ryan Imhoff) is an aspiring actor who's freshly out. Brad (Aaron Kotte) is cynical and HIV-positive. Fortysomething (maybe fiftysomething) Charles (Chris Kramer) is still chasing young men when he's not being arch and pretentious about opera.
And Scott (Joshua Ryan) is a studly hunk who's surprisingly thoughtful beneath his chiseled physique.
Then there's James (Christopher Guthrie), Tom's first love. Somehow they've reconnected and Tom has invited James over, much to Michael's dismay. Of course it's awkward. And it gets more so when James, who has written a controversial novel about the gay scene, announces he's getting married — to a woman. I hope I'm not giving too much away here, but none of this is hard to anticipate.
Tolins' script plays with the routine themes and characters in gay plays. (Observing the similarities between their situation and what often happens onstage, one character says, "Oh, just what we need — another gay play!") Multiple amusing references are made to predictable moments — when a character makes a startling revelation, when someone has a hysterical fit, when someone reveals unfaithfulness but claims it means nothing — in a way that we're eventually led to see demonstrates that Last Sunday, while playing with these conventions, is trying to leave them behind.
Most of the play's humor derives from the stereotypes, especially the bitchy Brad, whose fatalistic streak makes him unusually audacious in his observations. But each character has his moment. Perhaps this one-act play, directed by veteran local actor (and Cincinnati Shakespeare founder) Nick Rose, has a few too many moments: A pre-curtain video says it's 80 minutes long, while the program says 90. On opening night, it ran well over 100.
There's a lot to enjoy in this play, but Rose's cast needs to pick up the pace. Especially when the story turns serious in the final half-hour, the action drags too often with ponderous insights, underlining how relationships really work — as if we in the audience might miss the relatively obvious points.
Nevertheless, performances in Last Sunday in June are solid and generally believable. The relationship between Tom and Michael feels real and complicated, and the troubled path they're on is made painful and human by Diaz and Hunter. Guthrie, always worth watching, is a tortured soul who thinks he's found the path to a better life. But his friends doubt him — and Guthrie's sullen, tense presence alerts us to the potential flaws in James' decision.
Elizabeth Holt takes on the part of Susan, James' too-good fiancée, a role without enough dimension to be satisfying. She's largely a mouthpiece for yet another point of view, leaving little room for an interesting character.
This is a realistic script about relationships that happen to be gay. But the pain is something we can all feel. It's an interesting path to get there. Grade: B+
LAST SUNDAY IN JUNE, presented by Know Theatre of Cincinnati, continues through Aug. 26.