Big Excellent 20th Reunion

Libretto, Lyrics, Music by KS Stevens
Direction by Natalie Malotke and Regie Cabico
Featuring Alyssa Chiarello, Vincent DiGeronimo, Clarence P Ilanan, Bianca Leigh, Jevonnah Mayo, Elizabeth Whitney
Theatre 80, 80 Saint Mark’s Place
June 6, 2012 — June 23, 2012
production web site

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
June 7, 2012

The writer, director, producer KS Stevens responsible for the sweet and thematically potent work being developed and presented at Theatre 80 has big dreams. Great theatre music animates her life, according to her biographical materials, and themes from her life and the lives of those around her animate the set pieces assembled in Big Excellent 20th Reunion.  Characters who were bound together as friends in high school by their not quite fully articulated “otherness” have returned for a high school reunion and, as happens with such set ups, secrets and feelings are revealed.  Now in their late 30s, the characters are settling into careers or transitioning into new ones; are coupled or single or searching; are looking to reveal lurking secrets.  The libretto that binds the story together is a bit stilted but the stories resonate.

Our convening classmates, the band of misfits from high school days, covers a wide swath (“afternoon special” style) of the LGBT experience. Danielle (Bianca Leigh) has returned as a strapping handsome woman-loving-woman after graduating as a strapping handsome co-captain of the football team.  Mitch (Vincent DiGeronimo) was the other co-captain, spent time in the service, discovered he was happily gay, and still has issues with Danielle-nee Danny.  Kevin (Clarence P Ilanan) had a wildly active sexual life as a gay man post high school, became HIV positive then a therapist and family to an absent classmate’s daughter Erica (Jevonnah Mayo).  Debra (Alyssa Chiarello) was popular in high school and is now a self-aware and self-assured bisexual attorney-in-training.  And rounding out the attending group members, Samantha (Elizabeth Whitney), is a dating but almost celibate lesbian, who hadn’t quite named this orientation back in high school.  The group spends much of the reunion outside the auditorium on the bleachers in our spare and suggestive set, singing, talking in bullet points. Tension is created by the fact of the recent death of Erica’s mom, for some reason kept a secret from her old friends until the final moments of the play. Some characters partner up and all is well at play’s end.

The strongest and most rooted performances come from Whitney’s ditzy Samantha and Chiarello’s stalwart Debra, whose characters conveniently find each other romantically by the end of the reunion. I can imagine a play involving these two actresses in version of their characters, perhaps enhanced by the charm of these performers. I can’t say that the other characters provide a similar lasting impression beyond their purpose in moving this particular plot along. The challenges for the book, the script patching the touching songs together, seems to stymie the rest of the cast for much of the flow of the show while their singing performances of assigned songs are solid.

Our multi-roled creator Stevens has a feel for stories from the LGBT community and has crafted some moving tunes with which to tell them. She might benefit from a partner book writer to smooth the sometimes rough plot transitions. Alternatively, the tunes could be assembled almost as a chamber sequence or a cabaret set list, removing the need for character development through dialogue at this point in the script. What the piece does offer in its current form is a thoughtful outline through songs and situations of the array of LGBT issues confronting young people, young adults, all people.

© Martha Wade Steketee (June 12, 2012)

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