Kiss and Tell

Like the AIDS quilt, The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me presents a patchwork of random images and unrelated stories. In a 1993 interview with the San Jose Mercury News, conducted when Drake was appearing in his play in San Francisco, he noted, "You don't own pride until you own all the other feelings that go along with it: anger, pain, joy, sorrow, shame." He went on to add that his play "came from a necessity to clarify my feelings and experiences, to find out what I had in common with other gay people, an individual as part of a community."

And yet although other actors have starred in it, the play is not about other gay people -- it's about Drake. Unlike one-person shows that portray different characters and expose common traits among a group (the small-town antics of Big Wind on Campus, the urban dweller tales of Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll), The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me telescopes the complexity of the gay experience into the limits of one man's memories. Consequently, the success of Drake's play is largely predicated on his ability to spellbind audiences with little more than yarns from his past.

In fact, it was Drake's acting skills that earned him an Obie Award for performance when he starred in the play's 1993 off-Broadway world premiere. An established stage and film actor, he also appeared in subsequent productions in Los Angeles, London, Sydney, and at Scotland's Edinburgh Festival. Now that The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me has made its way to regional theaters, Drake is present only through his words, which too often describe great emotional upheavals in terms of "tear-stained cheeks" and a "snot-runned face." When it isn't embarrassingly insipid, the dialogue depends on the sort of recognition humor dependent on the audience's familiarity with a specific theater reference or pop-culture phrase.

Still, anyone who has ever said, "Well, I guess you had to be there" knows that a story is only as good as its storyteller. As Drake's stand-in, Davis rushes through the recollections, missing opportunities to hook us with a baited, deliberate speech. Davis doesn't possess a raconteur's charming ability to make us enjoy the journey without regard for where we end up. Nor does his acting convince us that we are listening to his story, which robs the unconnected sketches of the power to make us care what happens to this man.

More believable is Jerry Waxman's inventive set of crosswalks, streetlights, and alley walls, all of which provide a varied cityscape; also notable are Arnold Dolan's understated projections of theatrical marquees and leafy windowpanes, which give the suggested settings an emotional center.

Gay equality extends to the theater, where, regardless of their individual sexual orientation, characters need to exist in dramatically compelling tales. By going only as far as putting a gay character and situations on the stage, The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me rates as a form of misguided theatrical affirmative action. The gay experience and the audience deserve better.

The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me.
Written by David Drake; directed by Hugh M. Murphy; with J.R. Davis. Through September 14. For more information call 954-929-5400 or see "Calendar Listings.

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