Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
“And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair.” — From “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T. S. Eliot
Brian C. Petti’s “The Love Song of Sidney J. Stein” is an impressive retelling/re-imagining of T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and the third in a trilogy involving the life of Sidney J. Stein. Although the new play is billed as “a gay relationship story for the new millennium,” its rich characters, their hidden motivations, and their sometimes disquieting conflicts drive a plot far more cathartic than a single gay relationship.
The relationship in question is between forty-five year old halfway house employee Sidney J. Stein (Jim Pillmeier) and seventeen year old gay street hustler Dennis (Dalton Gray). Dennis just needs a spot to rest between his paid gigs on the street; however, he runs headlong into Sidney’s intrusive questioning about choice of occupation and prospects for a more sustainable future. Their fragile relationship develops into something no less than love – a place neither of them finds completely comfortable, especially after Dennis moves in with Sidney.
After Dennis fully understands Sidney’s vulnerability and state of health, he offers to stay with Sidney and care for him. Sidney is unable to accept this offer of love and discovers later than Dennis has moved out and stolen his ATM card. In the final scenes of the play, Dennis returns having finished his GED, landed a good job, and “off the streets” to apologize to Sidney and to offer to pay him back. The first installment in the repayment is an invitation to dinner. Whether Sidney will forgive Dennis and accept the offer remains open-ended.
If, as critics proffer, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is an examination of the tortured psyche of the prototypical modern man—overeducated, eloquent, neurotic, and emotionally stilted,” then Sidney J. Stein is that prototype as well. Sidney is far more educated than Dennis; he is eloquent beyond eloquent, completely neurotic, and emotionally stilted. At forty-five, he still has been unable to reconcile his past with his present and with his new charge Dennis. Like Prufrock, Sidney repeats what has become his mantra, “Do I dare?”
Dalton Gray gives an impressive performance as the “barely legal” teenage sex worker. Mr. Gray has clearly struggled with his character’s depth and has successfully embodied the richness of a confidently confused young man searching for a connection which might resemble the love he never received from his birth family. Jim Pillmeier is transcendent as the aging and ill Sidney who, like Prufrock, has started to climb the steps toward love far too many times only to remain at the first step in a pool of loneliness.
Brian C. Petti has delivered these actors a complicated and multilayered script which, under his careful direction, they have performed with their eloquence and grace. This is a touching and sometimes terrifying glimpse into places loneliness abides just waiting for the dayspring of dawn of renewal and hope. This play received far too short a run and will surely appear on a New York stage very soon.