Forever After
28th Street Playhouse

Doric Wilson's Forever After is a cagey, theatrical Chinese puzzle masquerading as a mere trinket -- one of the oldest and best comic poses. Two handsome young men in identical flannel shirts and denims celebrating their first anniversary together languish before the fireplace and review their romance; or, rather, two actors rehearse a play about this gay romance on Robert deMora's witty set -- a two-piece, fake-perspective model of a tasteful downtown apartment. But when a happy ending threatens, two drag queens representing Comedy and Tragedy -- who have been perched inside the proscenium arch making periodic rude remarks -- descend to redirect the actors in their own versions of the story. It's as if Charles Ludlam were trying out the cast of Scrambled Feet in a pastiche of Ben Johnson and Doric Wilson's A Perfect Relationship when Pirandello walked in.

The various elements ultimately get tied together as tidily as the topics on one of John Leonard's "Private Lives" columns, with plenty of in-jokes, out-takes, and assaults on the fourth wall along the way. But these stagy shenanigans have a purpose: Wilson is questioning the possibility of true love in the modern world -- a subject so potentially corny (and so pressing) that it can only be tackled with self-consciousness and a sense of humor.

It's not a subject of exclusive interest to gays, either. In fact, as more heterosexuals are postponing or deciding against marriage and childbearing, they are taking lessons from homosexuals on how to settle the sexual bargaining and emotional negotiation that goes on between two independent singles. That gays may have been writing their own contracts longer doesn't, of course, make them experts; in the field of love, perhaps there are no experts. But gay men's ritualization of classic romantic conflicts -- desire and defensiveness, innocence and cynicism, commitment and detachment -- provides ample material for Wilson, a gay playwright and man of the theater whose shrewdness at social observation Moliere might have admired.

"Bob is so butch," Forever After's Tom remarks of a dinner guest, "he can hardly eat in public." Much of the play's discussion revolves around image, looks, style, media and their influence on modern-day romanticism. Tom and David are Christopher Street clones for whom masculinity is all; they worry whether putting coffee beans in their after-dinner Sambucca -- or drinking Sambucca at all -- will destroy their studiedly casual urban-cowboy image. And their reenactment of their first meeting at the Ramrod is a funny, deadly accurate study of the curiously unromantic gay-macho courting routine. 

The drag queens supply an interesting and multilevel contrast. They are, at once, an affront to the butch-idolatry of the gay male subculture, a blast from the past (literally "fairy godmothers," representing all the campy queens and loveless clowns you ever saw as symbols of gay life in the media), and a self-conscious playwright' device to indicate his own ambivalence about both the possibility of romance and the depiction of same on the stage.

While Melpomene and Thalia (the tragic muse and the comic muse of Greek mythology, played by semi-famous drag-comedians Casey Wayne and Bill Blackwell) do play good angel/bad angel in rewriting the script of Tom and David's love affair, they're also an excuse for the author to telegraph the history and politics of gay theater by dishing Martin Sherman's play Bent ("Too bad we don't have an electric fence!"), Robert Patrick's T-Shirts, the theater in general ("Give an audience what they don't want -- they'll respect you for it!"), and himself. Some of this is terribly insy -- you have to be aware of Wilson's leather allegiance to know what a scream it is to call him "the Florence Foster Jenkins of physical culture" -- but most of it is hilarious, and it introduces an element of sheer fun to this combination love story, political rap, drag show, and backstage farce.

Underneath all the topical references and hallmarks of gay humor. Wilson is a classicist at heart, and it shows in his noticeably literate and well-crafted writing, and perhaps also in his overwriting. When Melpomene's rhetorical diatribes go on too long or young Tom lapses into a soap-operatic monologue about his unhappy childhood, Wilson knows enough to have another character point out how boring they are. But I think the speeches should be trimmed in the first place. And I'm a little surprised that Wilson didn't do more with Thalia, who spends most of the time reconciling the lovers rather than fleshing out the notion of Comedy and what it brings to love and life, gays and plays.

You may never notice how underwritten the part is, though, because it's played by Bill Blackwell, one of the last remaining "stars" of Off-Off-Broadway. Dressed in a panic of flaming orange and rhinestones (Robert deMora's gowns are as purposely tacky as his set is elegant). Blackwell takes command with character, not camping; unlike many drag performers, including the more exaggerated Casey Wayne, he projects good sense and self-respect, and his comic timing and amazing androgyny make him as magical a stage creation as Peter Pan or Ludlam's Camille.

The weight of the play is, however, well-distributed among the actors. Anthony Errinson as Tom and Hunt Block as David -- who interrupt the show to announce that they are straight ("All actors in gay plays are -- another time-honored theatrical convention!") -- do a particularly good job distinguishing themselves while playing similar "types." Tom is the one who whines, "You refuse to take my negativity seriously," and David is the one who boasts, "I came out post-Stonewall, so I have no experience with sex in bed." Wilson (who also directed, with impressive economy) doesn't say whether their fictional relationship will last, but the play is such a cleverly imagined staging of an idea that it may well live in the theater forever after.

Soho News, May 28, 1980.