In what amounts to a fascinating approach to how a playwright deals with his own life experiences, Rick Charles Mueller, the Brooklyn based playwright, author, and activist, introduced his new work in progress to the Midtown International Theatre Festival last night for a limited 4 performances. This was the opener, and there are 3 performances left.
The new play, “Forbidden,” takes a chapter directly out of the playwright’s own life and fictionalizes it for the stage in a sort of cathartic attempt to deal with what was clearly a very emotional moment in his life. What’s really interesting is that if you’ve seen Mr. Mueller’s work, you will immediately recognize the play-within-a-play he is writing about. In fact, Mr. Mueller seems to pull moments directly from the earlier work and infuse it into his new work, almost line for line. For those that don’t know the play he is referencing, it still works well as part of the new narrative. But it is otherwise still an intersting thing to observe.
The story centers around a playwright/actor who is working on a play for The Public Theater and becomes obsessed with the leading man in his play. A relatively lonely, older gay man who lives with his best friend, Antonia (he calls her “wifey”), he is torn between her bouts of panic, despair, and suicidal tendencies, and his lust and eventual love for a much younger man. As a middle aged playwright in his 50’s, his attraction to younger men is no secret. Antonia knows he is gay, but deep down seems to hope that it would be more than that, as she too is quite lonely.
For Charles, the attraction to the younger actor is more physical and aesthetic than anything else, but for Trevor (Steven Moity), the age difference has him in a state of conflict and confusion. Charles certainly falls in love with Trevor, but for Trevor the dilemna is different. At 22, he has been in an on/off long distance relationship with a 20-year old man, while finding himself drawn to the much older Charles, who is present and aggressively pursuing him. On many levels, the two younger men may be better suited to each other. Still, the comfort and opportunity offered by the more established Charles is appealing to Trevor, and he finds himself drawn to the playwright. The two go out to dinner, see Broadway plays, and work together on their play. But it doesn’t seem to be enough. The resistance from Trevor’s mother and family, as well as the moral dilemna of what still amounts to a workplace romance is at the core of the story, and why the play is called, Forbidden.
The concept is a fascinating one that transcends gay themes, even though the central characters happen to be gay. In reality, this is an age old subject about generational romances and how society may place a barrier on the way we relate romantically with one another. It is also most likely an HR nightmare no matter what the setting.
Tom Hauser’s directorial debut (with input from Mr. Mueller) handles the subject matter well and the scenes transition cleanly, with the story sticking to the narrative in an economical fashion that is typical of festival shows, considering that there are not sets whatsoever except an inflatable matress and some chairs made up to look like a sofa.
Mueller creates (or perhaps recreates) a believable Charles and Kelly Stowell as Antonia is frantic and fracured as the bi-polar friend. You quickly buy into the dynamics of this relationship and the conflict they face. In a way, you root for the two to strenghten the friendship because you come to believe that they need each other. As Trevor, Steven Moity does an excellent job as the confused, young actor trying to find the right way to deal with his feeling for Charles.
"Forbidden," by Rick Charles Mueller, has three more performances:
Wednesday, Aug 2, 7:30 – 9:00
Thursday, Aug 3, 6:00-7:30
Saturday, Aug 5, 3:30 – 5:00
Running Time: 90 minutes
Venue: Main Stage Theater, 312 W. 36th Street.
You can purchase tickets here: https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pe.c/10179614