* Written by Lee Blessing * Directed by Mark Lamos * Signature Theater Company, New York City, through June 17.

Lee Blessing’s *Thief River* portrays a love between two men that spans 53 years. As teenagers, Gil and Ray are secret lovers in small-town Minnesota. We first glimpse them on the night of their high-school prom in 1948. Gil, who everybody knows is “special,” has just been beaten up and pissed on by the class bully. Ray, who passes for straight, arrives to clean him up and urge him to leave town. Twenty-five years later, Gil returns with an unruly young boyfriend in tow and manages to disrupt the rehearsal for Ray’s son’s wedding. In the interim, Ray has raised a family yet has written every week to Gil, pouring out his soul. The letters have stopped abruptly, and Gil shows up both to find out why and to talk Ray into rekindling their affair. We meet them again as old men brought together by a stranger to tie up loose ends and to compare notes on the road not taken.

The trick to the play is that, rather than unfolding chronologically, these scenes overlap and interweave. Three actors play Gil and Ray at different ages, and it all takes place in an abandoned farmhouse haunted by generations of dark secrets and family violence. As a storytelling exercise, it’s ingenious and efficiently staged by Mark Lamos with such fine actors as Gregg Edelman and Remak Ramsay. Unfortunately, the characters remain theoretical constructs. Blessing knows how to write fine speeches -- “We’re born alone, we die alone, and every moment of our lives is a chance *not* to be alone” -- but views gay life from the outside in.

The Advocate, July 3, 2001

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