Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Gentleman Caller

Raven Theater, 6157 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60660

Now thru May 27, 2018

Raven Theater Website


Friday evening (April 27, 2018) I had a remarkable experience attending a performance of The Gentleman Caller, a world premier production of a Philip Dawkins play. The play attempts to imagine what might have happened when Tennessee Williams met William Inge in Inge’s St. Louis garden apartment and later in a Chicago hotel room in 1944 and 1945. We don’t know exactly what took place, except that Williams encouraged Inge to pursue play-writing. Dawkins’ script attempts to recreate those moments based on what we know of the two men’s lives. The fact that the program has a credit for David Wooley as Fight & Intimacy Choreographer should alert you to some of the play’s content. (The extent of the fighting was a single face slap as I recall, if that helps you imagine more clearly.)

Both Williams and Inge were homosexual, although radically different in their self-acceptance and ultimate public acknowledgement of their orientations. Playwright Philip Dawkins is likewise gay, and has written a number of gay-themed plays that I have seen produced here in Chicago, usually by About Face Theatre, a company that produces only gay-themed work. In this case however, Raven Theater commissioned Dawkins and Raven’s Artistic Director Cody Estle worked closely with Dawkins toward the world premier production at Raven’s intimate West Stage. Estle also directed the play’s production at Raven. The play has been extended to the end of May in Chicago, and also runs May 5–May 26 in New York with a production by Abingdon Theatre Company at Cherry Lane Theatre.

It doesn’t take long to realize that Dawkins is exploring creativity in general and play-writing in particular. What does it take to a successful artist? What does it cost the artist? What are the dangers of emerging from your hiding place, and being seen? What compels the artist to follow a dangerous path to follow his passion? What about the narcotic effect of success? Can the successful artist ever be truly satisfied, no matter how much success they achieve? All of this and more is examined through the contrasting attitudes and style of two of the most famous playwrights America has ever produced—along with some pretty sexy action just to keep the tension high and expectations  focused.

If you are at all involved in some sort of creative activity, whether it’s in the arts, or scientific research, or any field that commands your full immersion and dedication to some act of imagination and creation, you will undoubtedly identify with what Dawkins is trying to show us. In the Chicago production there were several places where tears were streaming down the face of actor Curtis Edward Jackson during his exceptional portrayal of the closeted and insecure Inge. Actor Rudy Galvan brilliantly portrayed the defenses of Tennessee Williams hiding behind a shell of wise-cracking and carefree abandon that only occasionally allowed the real passion and fears to become visible. This contrast between the two characters keeps the play moving and engaging for the entire two and one-half hours run. (Includes one 15-minute intermission.)

In the end, you won’t have any answers to any of the questions asked by either Inge or Williams, but you will have a better understanding of what questions must be asked and ultimately answered by every artist and creative person pursuing a creative objective, not because they want to, but because they are somehow compelled to. It should be obvious by now that I consider this play to be mandatory viewing for anyone thinking of pursuing an artistic career. It won’t give you answers; only you can provide the answers. But it will most certainly provoke your questions. And it will certainly provide two-and-one-half hours of entertainment.

If you find yourself in NYC or Chicago during one of the play’s performances, I highly recommend snapping up a ticket for a most enjoyable and provocative experience.

In the interest of full disclosure, actor Rudy Galvan (Tennessee Williams in the Chicago production) is a Masonic Brother; we are both members of Oriental Lodge No. 33 in Chicago. Rudy was the youngest Mason I ever helped initiate as I acted as Senior Deacon for his initiation ceremony when he was only a few months past his 18th birthday. I have had the pleasure of following his career ever since. He’s a fine actor and, I might add, a fine Masonic ritualist. I always look forward to his ceremonial lectures that he delivers with polished perfection and conviction. He is also a faithful and true Brother.

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