‘In the Closet’
Through Sept. 15
Rainbow Theatre Project
DC Arts Center
2438 18th St., N.W.
Coming out of the metaphorical closet space isn’t always easy. While confining, closets can be a refuge from ostracism and harsh attitudes, or in some cases a means of job security. While less so today (I think/hope), the closet still holds an uncomfortable place in our culture.
“In the Closet,” now making its world premiere at Rainbow Theatre Project, the reliably good local company dedicated to the LGBT experience, is a deeply affective work by out playwright Sigmund Fuchs who unflinchingly explores the roles closets play in the arc of gay life. Staged by Rainbow’s producing artistic director H. Lee Gable, the intergenerational dramedy boasts a committed and versatile four-man cast.
Here’s how the story unfolds: The morning after hooking up with a guy for the first time, 18-year-old John (Patrick Joy) ducks into the metaphorical closet where he’s greeted by three gay men of varied ages. Each are going through tough times at decisive moments in their lives which, for better or worse, have pushed them back into the closet. The idea isn’t to remain there forever.
Wounded 20-something Man no. 3 (Zachary Dittami) is in the closet after being raped by two guys at a party where he was bartending. Angry and unhappy middle-aged Man no. 2 (Christopher Janson) has had a breakdown after suffering a major panic attack that’s left him withdrawn and unsure of his future in a youth-obsessed culture. And the eldest, wryly candid Man no. 4 (Tim Caggiano), is back in the closet while dealing with the hospitalization of his lover who’s suffering from terminal cancer. In his experience, hospitals and nursing homes aren’t particularly welcoming to gay couples.
In the program notes, out director H. Lee Gable writes, “(it’s) a play that speaks to all gay men, form remembering entering that first gay bar to dealing with our place in our community as we age.” And it’s true. By including stories from different phases of gay life, playwright Fuchs smartly gives a wide-ranging glimpse at coming-of-age, middle and old age.
But while cleverly conceived, “In the Closet” is uneven. Some scenes feel repetitious and there’s a lot of didactic dialogue; still, other scenes soar with insight and poignancy, particularly those between the two youngest characters.
The play’s clever and most engaging aspect is revealed at the end of the first act (though most audience members will have it figured out long before then). It gives the characters a truly vested interest in each other’s stories.
With “In the Closet” (completed in 2015), Fuchs returned to playwriting after 10 years primarily spent practicing law. The D.C. resident’s previous plays include “Never Turned Out to Be Four Months” and “A Night Out at the Movies” (2002).
Out designer Greg Stevens’ serviceable black-and-white set playfully combines illustration with real racks, hangers and clothing; and this closet comes equipped with a compact kitchen wherein lies the provisions brought by Man no. 3 who frequently reiterates the fallacy that all middle-aged gay men boast well-stocked pantries.
After spending time in the closet, young John contemplates remaining there forever and possibly marrying a woman to avoid the future disasters and calamities with which his older closet-sharing brethren are grappling. But his new-found friends do their best to convince him that despite everything, it does get better.