[dropcap size=big]J[/dropcap]oel Daavid is an excellent designer and for “Doctor Anonymous” now playing at the Zephyr theatre on Melrose he has executed a superb set within the confines of that problematic venue, that possesses the form allowing it to serve the various scene shifts, while at the same time suggesting the “mod” interiors of the 1970’s.
Troy Hauschild, the projection designer, has provided a solid mooring of the historical period of the play, while encapsulating the attitude towards homosexuality prevalent in the early 70’s, and conveying what gay men faced at the time. They were punch lines for snide jokes as Hauschild shows in clips of the singer Tiny Tim from TV’s “Laugh-in”. More ominously they were labeled “threats” to the American way of life as seen in footage of Det. John Sorenson whose anti-gay tirades were shown in school auditoriums nationally. Hauschild even includes film of that chiseled jawed chunk of conservative coprolite George Putman who reigned over the L.A. news scene during the 60’s and 70’s and closed every newscast with the words: “Here’s to a better, stronger America.” By which he meant one without “homos”, “hippies” and liberals.
Excuse me…? You want what…? Oh, the rest of the review… Yes, well… Oh! Did I tell you about Joel Daavid’s excellent set…? I did, huh…?
Trust me; the less said about “Doctor Anonymous” the better. Written by Guy Fredrick Glass and directed by John Henry Davis, a fascinating episode in American social history has been trivialized to the level of “Tic-Tac-Toe” minus one “toe” and half a “tac”.
In 1972, slightly less than three years after the Stonewall Riot in New York, at a time when the American Psychiatric Association still viewed homosexuality as a disease of the mind, John Fryer, disguised in rubber mask and wig, took the stage of the APA’s annual convention announcing to the audience, “I am a homosexual, I am a psychiatrist.” His defiant stand and those of other gay men eventually led to the board of the APA removing homosexuality from its roster of “mental disorders”.
Fryer’s story is one of exceptional courage, of an individual defying the dictates of society by that most revolutionary of methods, being true to himself. But that courage, that rebelliousness, that passion and that battle is not to be found in this effort. You do not have a theatrical experience on stage here, but a soap bubble masquerading as a play.
Essentially it is the story of Matthew (Matt Crabtree), who is so deep into the closet his flatulence likely reeks of moth balls. The battle for his soul is fought over by his politically active lover Jake (Kevin Held) on one side, and the Psychiatrist (Barry Pearl) who promises to “cure” his homosexuality on the other. The presence of a leather bound comic buffo stud (Richard Sabine) and the undeveloped and unnecessary subplot of two star-crossed, opera-loving lovers (Jonathan Torres and Christopher Frontiero) adds nothing to the story.
The only scene of the piece that comes close to working is the opening of the play when Pearl is interviewing Crabtree for a position on his staff. Pearl’s character suspects and pursues, Crabtree’s character fears and evades, there is conflict driving the action and something at stake for the protagonist.
Unfortunately things unravel from that point on.
The work is defeated by its lack of focus in the narrative structure and the failure of the writer to orchestrate any dramatic flow connecting his characters to the events he’s imposed upon them.
As it stands, “Doctor Anonymous” is not a historical study, nor a character piece. At one moment it feels as if the writer was laboring to have his efforts resemble the “Normal Heart”, the next moment his intention seems to be to ape “Boys in the Band”, and then he whirls his poor, paltry characters about in an effort to mimic the broad humor of “La Cage aux Folles”.
In trying to be those plays that it can’t be, he’s lost the play he could have had.
Opening night for this show was interesting in one regard, half the house, literally half the house, was press. I haven’t seen such a cluster of critics and reviewers assembled for an opening night since I don’t know when. (Kudos to publicist Lucy Pollak). I couldn’t help thinking if an asteroid struck the place Bitter Lemons would be out of business. Alas I am somewhat curious to see how many of my fellow reviewers kowtow to “home team” bias and give this turkey less than the lambasting it so richly deserves.
7456 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90046
(between Fairfax and La Brea)
(323) 960-7724 www.plays411.com/doctor
Performances: March 29-May 4 Fridays at 8 p.m.: April 11, 18, 35; May 2 Saturdays at 8 p.m.: April 12, 19, 26; May 3 Sundays at 7 p.m.: April 13, 20, 27; May 4