The best gay novel of the year is Jon Robin Baitzís new play
The Paris Letter. Itís a beautiful, densely written saga that sprawls in time, space, and subject matter with Henry Jamesís attention to the details of class, Nabokovís telling conciseness, and Michael Cunninghamís way with a multi-generational family story. Yet itís not turgid or bookish. With its fascinating, exquisitely drawn characters and literary (almost operatic) sweep, itís the kind of play that serious theatergoers hunger for.
Fixated as ever on the morality of businessmen, Baitz here focuses on the destructive power of internalized homophobia. The play tracks the lifelong friendship of two men whose paths diverge after a brief affair in their early twenties. Discharged from the Army for being queer, Anton Kilgallen
(John Glover, Jason Butler Harner as the young Anton) goes from the costume department at MGM to
Flair magazine to pioneering haute cuisine in Manhattan Ė he is, in short, a dandy, gay without regrets. Whereas Sandy Sonnenberg
(Ron Rifkin, Daniel Eric Gold as the younger Sandy), from a long line of dull, discreet, emotionally remote Jewish bankers, feels tortured by his homosexuality, goes into psychoanalysis with a Socarides-like proponent of ďconversion therapy,Ē and builds a happily married life Ė until his repressed desires drive him to make a decision that leads to Enron-related financial ruin.
The play is stuffed with smart, gem-like, often hilarious scenes: young Sandy at dinner with his mother, a gay-friendly Freudian nightmare; Anton teaching his frantic young closet case how to slow down and make love; a 1998 restaurant conversation about what Bill Clinton should have said about Monicagate. Masterfully directed by Doug Hughes, four of the actors play double-roles, each superbly. But John Glover (best-known for his double-roles in
Love! Valour! Compassion!) gives a staggering star performance as Anton, who narrates the evening. Itís as deep and multifaceted a portrait of a gay character as Iíve ever seen onstage.
July 19, 2005