Theater Review by Ethlie Ann Vare
North Hollywood, CA (The Hollywood Times) 7/14/19 – It’s March, 2016. Three grad school chums – Maggie, David and Jason – plan to celebrate David’s 50th birthday at her home in Palm Springs, but Nancy Reagan is getting in the way. Okay, that deserves some explanation. Nancy Reagan has just died, and the people coming to “pay their respects” are screwing up traffic. This upsets Jason, because he’s driving in that traffic. It upsets David more, because he can’t forget that the Reagans turned their backs on a generation of gay men who were dying of AIDS.
That’s pretty much the tone of Daniel Hurewitz’ new play, which opened July 12 at the Secret Rose Theatre in North Hollywood. It swings from the funny to the dramatic to the absurd, but manages to do so without ever seeming jarring or unmotivated. As an actual historian (Bohemian Los Angeles, exploring LGBT activism before Stonewall), playwright Hurewitz brings topical heft to what might otherwise come off as a cross between The Big Chill and a Friends reunion. It’s about gender, and race, and betrayal – both personal and political – and the ways we carry our history with us.
As history teacher David (Kiff Scholl) says to college dean Maggie (Debi Tinsley) early on: “If I don’t make my kids uncomfortable, they don’t listen to a word I say.” This play wants to make you just uncomfortable enough to pay attention, but give you enough laughs to make it go down smooth.
David, Jason and Maggie may all be 50, but Jason’s boyfriend Kenny (Colbert Alembert) is only 31. He has no lived experience of the AIDS epidemic; he never even had to live in the closet. Student activist Allison (Safiya Quinley) wants to talk about race and intersectionality, and her experience is as alien to David as his is to her.
Then there’s Richard (Mark Sande), Maggie’s husband, recently retired and enlivening the proceedings with a desire to grow and learn and change. Not everyone wants to change. We are all creatures of our own history, but how tightly do we want to hold onto it?
“I’m a history professor,” says playwright Hurwitz. “David is saying to Kenny, ‘this is your history. You have a history’.”
Opening night at the equity waiver room was packed, much of it friends and family (full disclosure: by strange coincidence, it turns out I know the playwright’s family) and there were a few bumps getting the show on its feet. Director Larry Margo noted that David and Allison were last-minute recasts, and David has lots of dialog. Some of the set changes were bumpy. But the performance was warmly received, and deservedly so. Every character is fully realized and the actors inhabit them thoroughly. Snarky Jason’s discomfort with earnest David is perfectly motivated, and Richard’s childlike glee at rediscovering the world as a fledgling writer is infectious. You would happily spend more time with these folks, even though at 2 hours and 15 minutes plus intermission it’s already a long birthday party.
Nancy F***ing Reagan (yes, the whole word is used onstage) won the 2018 Christopher Hewitt Award and competed in the Ashland New Plays Festival. It plays at the Secret Rose weekends through August 5.
Written by: Daniel Hurewitz
Directed by: Larry Margo
Starring: Colbert Alembert – Amy Kersten – Safiya Quinley – Mark Sande – Greg Ivan Smith – Kiff Scholl – Debi Tinsley
Secret Rose Theatre
11246 Magnolia Blvd.
North Hollywood, CA 91601
Through August 4