KPBS AIRDATE: April 9, 1997
It’s 167 degrees in New York. Buses are melting. The rivers have dried up. Cars spontaneously combust. Four people witnessed a murder, and the world has never been the same. It’s the end of the universe as we know it, or as playwright Phyllis Nagy has depicted it.
“Weldon Rising” is overwhelmingly apocalyptic. A New Yorker living in London, Nagy was reluctant to release her 1992 play to a gay & lesbian theater like Diversionary. Although the central characters are two gay couples and a transvestite, and the violent, catalytic event is a homophobic hate-crime, the piece is less about sexual preference than isolation and identity; it’s about falling apart and coming together.
The lesbian couple drowns their horror in drinking and petty thievery. The dead man’s lover, a self-deprecating, closeted lamp-seller who ran from the crime-scene in terror, tries to douse his own smell in 100 colognes. And Marcel, the transvestite prostitute, a sort of ambisexual Greek chorus, is so alienated, he refers to himself only in the third person. When asked why, he affirms his outsider status: “Marcel IS the third person,” he says.
This may all seem very bleak and depressing. But actually, both as written and as played, it’s quite funny at times — dark, but funny, not to mention sexy, and it ends on a hopeful note, with a promise of love, redemption, forgiveness, connectedness.
It’s not a brilliant piece of work, but it’s thought-provoking; heavy-handed at times, but chilling and titillating, amusing and intriguing. Director Christina Courtenay has done it again, elevated a darkly comic vision to the heights of theatricality. She’s cast impeccably, creating an aching ensemble of very humanly flawed characters.
Duane Daniels is the scintillating centerpiece as Marcel. He’s both funny and sad — and quite attractive in his stockings and garter-belt. Adam Edwards plays Natty Weldon, who is, as the title suggests, ascendant by the end of the piece. The New York accent isn’t exactly spot-on, but the neurosis and paranoia are. Michelle Hanks and D. Candis Paule make a charmingly dysfunctional couple, and as the pretty Boy and his victim, Robert Borzych and J.D. Meier are very appealing… but both would look even better in tighter jeans.
Rick Rongers’ set capably captures the sleazy, cobblestoned back-streets of New York’s meat-packing district. The lighting is dim, the pace is quick, the production is one of Diversionary’s best. It’s a perfect piece for the millennium.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1997 Patté Productions Inc.