Opening Nights: A Language of Their Own

Gay romance gone bad.

Let it be said one more time that I'm gay. I mention it only so you won't label me a homophobe for not liking ReAct's staging of Chay Yew's AIDS-themed drama from 1995, which has been making the rounds in one form or another since then (well before the disease was downsized from plague to chronic condition). Yew's script teeters from whining and sentiment to free-verse poetry depicting a bathhouse tryst. It also does that thing same-sex couples hate: It leaves the impression that gay men are incapable of lasting romantic partnerships.

Maybe the stresses of dealing with HIV back in the early '90s made that so. Or perhaps it's just me. I can name only a half-dozen gay plays from the past two decades that aren't fatally arch, shallow, or simply myopic about the subject—Jeffrey, Angels in America, and Rent paramount among them.

Language allows us to watch the breakup and repartnering of two Chinese-American lovers: Ming (David Hsieh), a native-born American, and Oscar (Joseph Steven Yang), a cardigan-sporting traditionalist whose formative years were spent in China. The show opens with their breakup, and, after a flashback, returns to it repeatedly to illustrate that the differences that once attracted the pair have now driven them apart.

In the second act, both struggle to move on with new partners. Added to the mix are Daniel (Alex Adisorn) and Robert (Trevor Cushman), the lone Anglo in the play, who endures Ming's philandering—and worse. In the end, Yew makes sure we all understand that it's Ming's unresolved feelings for Oscar that make him "act out." But a jerk is a jerk is a jerk. As written and performed, Ming is a nightmare ex incapable of eliciting empathy—and that makes for one long, excruciating night in the theater.

Directed by Victor Pappas, the inexperienced cast labors under the yoke of Yew's mess of a play, with varying degrees of success. Yang is a natural as the stuck-in- his-head Oscar, always ruminating on whether he's made the right choices. Cushman adds heartbreaking humanity to Robert, whom Ming both puts on a pedestal and treats as a punching bag. Adisorn does his best with the shallow materialist Daniel.

And at the center of this maelstrom is poor Hsieh, who skittishly retreats from Ming's emotional range. The experience is like watching some steeplechase runner lose his nerve and step gingerly around the hurdles.

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