Micah Spayer, Jacob Perkins, Max Rhyser and Anni Weisband in THE AUSTERITY OF HOPE. Photo by Ben Strothmann.
Disclaimer: Playwright Dan Fingerman and Director Dan Dinero are both Theasy alum. We like them. And (luckily) their work, too.
BOTTOM LINE: A smart new play about gay men in Astoria, what it means to be a friend, and what it means to have adult relationships.
The gay experience today is a specific one, especially when you pin it down in Astoria, New York. Dan Fingerman's new play The Austerity of Hope positions its lens at Queens (queens in Queens?) and considers the politics of life, both within friendships and on a national level. The play begins just before the 2008 presidential election, when Obama's campaign created a searing optimism and hope became a magic word. For the next year and a half, we follow a group of friends and see how their lives contort under social change.
The political ramifications of this time period are explicit in the beginning and end of the play, and sprinkled throughout with mentions of marriage equality. Other than that, however, the setting is background. At the forefront of the action are four individuals trying to figure out what life is all about. Simon (Max Rhyser), Mike (Micah Spayer), Braydon (Jacob Perkins), and Claire (Anni Weisband) have been friends for some time. They rely on each other for advice and support, particularly when it comes to dating and careers. The men in this group are gay, and Claire is straight -- the gay men / fag hag dynamic in full swing, but not at all superficially. These four are close.
Problem is, Simon is a jerk. And it seems like everyone he meets is turned off by his bad attitude. His charm and looks get him far, particularly when it comes to no-frills sexual relationships, but he antagonizes others any chance he can get, and this leads to some understandable angst among the others, who consistently make excuses for his catty behavior. As Mike and Braydon have relationship issues and Claire focuses on a big career change, Simon is there to sneer and judge. And that surmises the conflict within The Austerity of Hope. As the fab four try to attain happiness despite the typical uphill battle of love and work, obstacles challenge their growth.
Braydon begins to date Scott (Lee Garrett), a self-absorbed performer out for fame in spite of himself. Mike's long-term boyfriend Jonathan (Derrick Ledbetter) breaks up with him, and he struggles to rebuild his life. Claire uproots for a major career opportunity. And Simon -- in arguably the most compelling story within ths play -- begins an out-of-character monogamous relationship with Kurt (Kohler McKenzie), newly out and previously married to a woman.
The play begins with the characters's semi-successful personal pursuits splashed against a country full of hope and pride. By the end, they've come full circle -- some stories pan out, and some do not, but all are better for the growth they've experienced. It's an interesting time to be a young adult, particularly a gay man in the United States. The Austerity of Hope is an engaging play despite your gender and sexual orientation, but I suspect gay men will find something quite personal within the narrative.
The cast works well together, and Dan Dinero's sharp direction allows for some insightful inquiries into the characters and their relationships with one another. Helen Ammon's clever hodgepodge set is a functional installation that allows for clumps of furniture to dictate all kinds of locations and creative staging options. The Austerity of Hope is somewhat untraditional in its storytelling, with four protagonists and their overlapping yet equally-weighted stories, but this production takes care to support this storytelling through innovative aesthetics and smart staging.
(The Austerity of Hope plays at the Abingdon Theatre, 316 West 36th Street, through November 3, 2012. Performances are Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7PM; Thursdays and Fridays at 8PM; Saturdays at 2PM and 8PM; and Sundays at 2PM. Tickets are $18 and are available at smarttix.com.)