Baring Tristan and Old Love Letters I Keep in My Underwear Drawer, Bailiwick Repertory. These earnest but disappointing productions, opening the Pride Performance Series ’96, re-create the most unimaginative strain of gay identity politics: the coming-out drama. Without much humor or skill they present sexual coming-of-age as the pivotal moment of gay selfhood–a simplistic, dangerously apolitical theatrical cliche.
Baring Tristan is structured like a melodramatic sitcom. Its short episodes, unbelievable plot, and generic characters show little of the creative spark playwright Leigh Evans generates in her current work with Nomenil. The actors plod through the show, and each moment is reduced to a snapshot of flat emotional signifying. (Go see Nomenil’s latest production instead: Like Our Parents Smoking Cornsilk, at Cafe Voltaire.)
If Tristan is juvenilia, Old Love Letters is simply juvenile. Starkly sincere, writer-performer Ed Hofmann tells his life story in nervous narratives connected to objects he pulls out of an upstage drawer. Though some of the characters he describes are intriguing, Hofmann can’t generate enough camp irony to offset the sentimental self-help tone of the play (which he wrote with Tekki Lomnicki). His coy, childish references to masturbation alternate with testimonials to his mature status as an accomplished lover. I felt he wanted me to be an affirming therapist, not an audience member.
It’s a personal struggle to write about being gay; but unfortunately these productions, with their sentimentality and pop psychology, seemed more apologetic than proud.