AISLE SAY San Francisco


By Terrence McNally
Directed by Ed Decker
Presented by and at New Conservatory Theatre Center
25 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco, CA / (415) 861-8972

Reviewed by Judy Richter

Five years after his controversial "Corpus Christi" was staged by New Conservatory Theatre Center, Terrence McNally has written a new work, "Crucifixion," for the San Francisco theater, which tends to focus on gay-related plays. NCTC commissioned "Crucifixion" and had McNally in residence for 15 months while he developed it in conjunction with the 11-member cast and artistic director Ed Decker, who directs the play.

This is an artistic coup for the non-Equity company, for McNally, one of the nation's foremost and prolific playwrights, has amassed numerous honors for plays like "Master Class," "Love! Valour! Compassion!" "Lips Together, Teeth Apart" and "Lisbon Traviata," along with the books for such hit musicals as "Kiss of the Spider Woman" and "Ragtime" and libretti for operas like "Dead Man Walking."

Running about two hours without intermission, the play is set in the present and takes place in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York City. As it opens, the 11 actors introduce themselves by their own and their characters' names, saying a sentence or so about their characters. The central character is James Giraud (Colin Stuart), a young Jesuit priest who murders Don Capps (Scott Cox), a high-powered TV producer. The play opens with the murder and jumps back and forth from there, gradually showing how all 11 characters are connected to each other in some way. It ends with what happened to motivate the murder. The actors then take their bows by giving their own and their characters' names again.

This is very much a gay play. Only one character, the priest's half-sister, Genevieve Kaufmann (Camilla Busnovetsky), an unmarried lawyer, is straight. And although three characters are lesbians, the focus is very much on gay men and their preoccupation with sex. Some of the dialogue is graphically sexual, and there are some brief scenes with male nudity.

McNally's program notes imply that "Crucifixion" is still a work in progress. He says, "Now the play is receiving its first full production in front of a paying audience. Does that mean that it is 'finished'? Probably not. Plays take time to settle down, find their feet and figure out what they're all about. So do actors and so do playwrights. We are all still in the process of 'finding' 'Crucifixion.' " It does indeed feel like a work in progress, for it needs some tweaking, especially to pare down some of the more graphic language and to make some of the characters' connections clearer.

Moreover, some of the acting seems stilted, although Decker's direction could be a factor, too. In addition to Stuart's and Cox's performances, one of the better performances is by Patrick Michael Dukeman as Schuyler Hawk, a very gay TV weatherman. The cast also includes Paul Araquistain, Cheryl Smith, Lizzie Calogero, Bradford Cooreman, Javier Galitˆ„-Cava, Andrew Nance and Amanda King.

Giulio Cesare Perrone's simple, all-white set, complemented by Matthew Miller's lighting and Ted Crimy's sound, serves the play well, facilitating quick scene transitions. Some of Keri Fitch's costumes don't fit properly or don't seem appropriate for the character.

"Crucifixion" is probably not destined to make the list of McNally's best plays, but it holds one's interest, and it has potential.

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