[Full article published in The Clyde Fitch Report, June 26, 2018.]

image-1-brannon-wells-monahon-cheung-ferguson-joan-marcus
Phillip James Brannon, Dolly Wells, Talene Monahon, Cindy Cheung and Jesse Tyler Ferguson in Jordan Harrison’s “Log Cabin,” now Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons. Photos: Joan Marcus.

What happens when you fold three couples with overlapping friendships and lurking past connections up against one another, throw in gender flexibility and sexual shenanigans, and add an element magic realism where infants speak more coherently than the adult caregivers around them? In playwright Jordan Harrison‘s Log Cabin, currently running at Playwrights Horizons, you have an old-fashioned romantic farce and comedy of mannersseen through an early-21st-century social and political lens.

Harrison’s title calls to mind Log Cabin Republicans but it may also refer to places of refuge sought by the play’s characters, their friendships and their homes, from shifting laws and mores. The story begins in 2012, with America on the brink of legalizing gay marriage, and extends to early 2017, the shock not yet worn off from the 2016 presidential election.

There are no cis-gendered heterosexual relationships in this play, a rare and rich dramatic context whose potential remains unrealized in this story of young adults learning the ropesof adulting. It’s the dramatic journey of people who feel they are suddenly grownups with money and the power to form relationships, and who then struggle to make it all work.

Ezra (quippy and lovely Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and Chris (delightfully clueless Phillip James Brannon) have been together several years, are recently engaged, and have an ongoing argument about whether to have a child. Much of the action takes place in the gorgeous book-lined loft-ish Brooklyn apartment — courtesy of set designer Allen Moyer and two well-choreographed turntables — owned by married Jules (angular and witty Dolly Wells) and Pam (soft-spoken and powerful Cindy Cheung). Ezra’s childhood friend Henry (funny and heartbreaking Ian Harvie) and his new younger girlfriend Myna (hippy earnest Talene Monahon) come for drinks and unpack how they met, Henry’s gender transition from Helen, and how the younger Myna reacts to the group of 30-somethings a decade her senior.

Wells, as Jules, gives a performance that hints at a role deeper than the one written here, and Cheung’s Pam feels like a comfortable match: you believe the longevity of their relationship and what balanced parents they’ll be to their nonverbal toddler son. Monahon’s Myna, by contrast, is the least nuanced character; she’s more of a rebuff to the challenges of her elders when it comes to money, children and jobs, since she’s more interested in exploring the world. Harvie’s Henry links many plot points, has a story somewhat lost in the self-centered maelstrom swirling around him, and has a number of lovely speeches.

Director Pam MacKinnon keeps all the plates spinning — and the turntables, too. It’s also important to note that gender identity is used here as a storytelling tool, not as the point of this play, yet the fact of Henry’s gender identity allows for several interesting possibilities and relationship between characters. There’s Ezra to Henry, for example, when making the case for Henry to carry his child:

My whole life it’s ‘Smear the Queer’ and getting slammed into lockers, and then I wake up and I’m Mr. Mainstream Privilege.
I didn’t see it happening.

Do we feel for Ezra, and see Log Cabin as just another chapter in the endless supply of thirtysomething-like stories to be written as each new generation hits its childbearing years and becomes their own parents?

[continued]

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