Directed by Michael Parva
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
Transgender themed movies far outnumber transgender themed plays: “In a Year of 13 Moons” (1978); “Paris Is Burning” (1990); “Ma vie en rose” (1997); “Boys Don’t Cry” (1999); and “Transamerica” (2005) all have raised the consciousness about transgender women and men who not only struggle with the important issue of sexual status and gender reassignment surgery but also battle fear, rage, and harassment from family, friends, and society at large. So it was with much anticipation this reviewer attended a performance of Robert Callely’s “On a Stool at the End of the Bar” currently playing at 59E59 Theater B. Mr. Callely’s play deals with the inadvertent “outing” of Chris McCullough (Antoinette Thornes) by her brother Michael (John Stanisci).
Michael stops by his sister’s Camden, New Jersey home to drop off a check from their father’s estate, meets Chris’s significant other Tony DeMarco (Timothy John Smith) with whom she lives with his three children Mario (Zachary Brod), Angie (Sara Kapner), and Joey (Luke Slattery). Tony knows nothing about Chris’s family and in his conversation with Michael – who assumes Tony knows everything – learns Chris was Christopher before her gender reassignment surgery. Tony later confronts Chris with Michael’s revelation and, as one would expect, all hell breaks loose and the play itself reels off its already fragile hinges. Playwright Callely simply does not handle the subject well and has his characters misbehave in the worst ways. Although it is understandable that the news a family has been living a deception would be shocking, it is not understandable that family members would only exhibit rage and loathing toward someone who had done nothing but shower them with unconditional love.
Worse, Mr. Callelly leaves unresolved the family’s confusion between transgender, transvestite, and lesbian-gay sexual identities. The cast seems to struggle with Mr. Callely’s disjointed script and does its best to work through awkward and meaningless scenes like those between Tony and Father Conners (admirably played by Robert Hogan) and Chris and Dr. Johns played without an ounce of therapeutic unconditional love by Liza Vann. It is not possible for an urban priest to be as naïve as Mr. Callely’s Father Conners and rare for a therapist to be as erratic in advice as the playwright’s Dr. Johns.
It is difficult to know precisely what Robert Callely’s play is supposed to be about: is it about Chris’s disingenuous behavior or her shame; is it about her family’s reaction to her truth; or is it perhaps about priests behaving badly. Director Michael Parva must assume some of the responsibility here. He allows Ms. Thornes to speak more slowly than any actor on stage ever has giving her important monologues the tempo of somnambulance. And the director moves his actors around like cardboard cut-outs. Overall, this attempt at dealing with a significant and emotionally charged subject falls flat and leaves the audience hoping for more.