Two music stands. Two scripts. Two pools of light. And two men, one on each side of the stage facing the audience.
The two performers are directly engaging the audience, using scripts when they need to, narrating parts of their lives. Specifically, they are relating two versions of the long and often arduous process of coming to terms with one’s gay identity and existence.
The performance gets off to a shaky start. Les Kurkendaal (age 43) is a bundle of energy, but he insisted on rushing and over-emphasizing words, as if this would somehow lead to a greater rapport with the audience. Dan Bernitt (age 23) spent too much time buried in his script, and his performance was somewhat lifeless. But wait.
Kurkendaal hit his stride early on with a concrete, humorous story about an incident at recess when he was 7 years old.
There are two girls and two boys standing around, when one of the girls gets the bright idea of playing “wedding.” “Who do you want to marry, Les?” Big, breathless pause. “Donald!” The girl maintains that boys can’t marry boys, they have to marry girls. Wouldn’t you know it: This scene takes place in the state of California.
Bernitt was pumping on all engines by the time he got to the story of the Life Force Christian Group in high school. I’m sure it was partly righteous indignation at the memory, but the energy level and degree of expressiveness stuck throughout the performance.
He had been a regular in the group, and all his friends knew he was gay. Usually there was an innocuous theme to the evening, but this night the topic was homosexuality. All of his friends quoted the vilest anti-gay Bible passages they could find, rubbing his nose in the stench of his gayness. There was no mention of the positive passages, such as Ruth and Naomi, Jonathan and David. Needless to say, he never went back.
Perhaps the most striking thing about this performance is the juxtaposition of the two lives. The two men don’t interact, but they trade off speaking time, and their experiences comment on each other. The resulting synergy makes the whole greater than the sum of the parts.
I was left with the question: What progress has been made when two men, 20 years apart in age, have undergone essentially the same psychological torture because they were born gay?
Performed at Below Zero through June 5. See performance dates and preview here.