Tuesday, May 21, 2019

A Love that Spans Decades


The View UpStairs


Chris Morrell, Cameron Weston, David Bicha, Gary M. Giurbino, Anthony Rollins-Mullens*, Coleton Schmitto, Jessica Coker, and Jesse Cortez. Photo: Lois Tema.

By Max Vernon
Directed by Ed Decker

New Conservatory Theatre Center
25 Van Ness, SF

Until June 9, 2019

By Christine Okon

The New Conservatory Theatre is celebrating 38 years as San Francisco’s center for LGBT themed theater, and its current production of Max Vernon’s musical The View UpStairs  brings that span of history to life.

In 1973, homosexuals were targeted, assaulted, discriminated against, and reviled by general society. But in the New Orleans French Quarter there was “The Upstairs Lounge” that served as a bar, meeting place, church, family room, sanctuary and “Some Kind of Paradise” for gays in the know. An arsonist’s attack destroyed the building, killing 32 and injuring 15, and no one was ever arrested.  The View UpStairs is the playwright’s homage to this bar, its patrons, and the sweep of gay history.

Cameron Weston, Anthony Rollins-Mullens*, Jessica Coker, Coleton Schmitto, and Nick Rodrigues. Photo: Lois Tema
The play begins with a dance party in a deliciously decadent room full of Christmas lights, a disco ball, and even a framed centerfold of a naked Burt Reynolds. Everyone freezes in place as director and NCTC founder Ed Decker steps up to welcome the audience to the party.

The stage darkens as a young man Wes (wide-eyed Nick Rodriguez) wanders the room and wonders why, in 2019, he bought this decrepit building that needs a ton of work. Suddenly, magically, the lights go up, the party resumes, and Wes, clutching his smartphone, joins the group of diverse characters who all welcome him. Is he “Lost or  Found”?

Anthony Rollins-Mullens*, Jessica Coker, and Cameron Weston Photo: Lois Tema

As with most time travel stories, the stranger from the past and/or future is baffled and amused by differences from the other era. Wes, who is used to interacting only through his phone via text, Grindr, Facetime, and hashtags, is not used to interacting face-to-face with people in real time. He finds more connection with the “ghosts” than with the usual 21st century faceless digital entities. Patrick, the handsome guy in orange bell bottoms that is drawn to Wes, scoffs at the need for technology. Vernon creatively compresses the arc of decades into the same moment, and we are right there with Wes taking it all in. What endures over the years are love, connection, and friends.

Jesse Cortez, Linda Dorsey*, and Nick Rodrigues. Photo: Lois Tema


Although not everyone had the same caliber of singing talent, some standouts are Coleton Schmitto as Patrick, the man who teaches Wes about real love. Jesse Cortez as the newbie drag queen who is lucky to have a supportive mother (open-hearted Linda Dorsey*) sings with sweetness and vulnerability. All of the cast members convey that The Upstairs Lounge was a real home for many, heightening the sadness of the tragedy.

Those who remember 1973 can see how far things have evolved and how precariously close we are to regressing, should certain powers have their way. The lessons of the past can give us resolve to move into the future.

The View UpStairs by Max Vernon, directed by Ed Decker, at New Conservatory Theatre Center, San Francisco, through Sunday, June 9, 2019. Info: www.nctcsf.org

CAST
David Bicha, Jessica Coker, Jesse Cortez, Linda Dorsey, Gary M. Giurbino, Chris Morrell, Nick Rodriguez, Anthony Rollins-Mullens, Coleton Schmitto, and Cameron Weston
* Member of Actors Equity Association

CREATIVE TEAM
Technical Director ... Carlos Aceves
Music Director ... Kelly Crandell
Choreographer ... Rick Wallace
Wig design ... David Carver-Ford
Production audio technician / Sound design ... Wayne Cheng
Costume design ... Wes Crain
Production audio engineering ... Taylor Gonzalez
Scenic design ... Devin Kasper
Fight choreography ... Kristen Matia
Lighting design ... Mike Post
Stage management ... Kaitlin Rosen
Props design ... Daniel Yelen

BAND
Guitar ... Khalil Anthony-Doak
Drums ... Tim Vaughn





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