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Queer in the U.S.A.

By Mark Sterner · June 10th, 2010 · Fringe

The program for Queer in the U.S.A. states: “I ask you to transgress, to step beyond the bounds of reality and into a magical space where one man can play eight different characters with minimal set, sound and lighting.” There is no problem with one man playing eight characters or with having minimal technical accouterments.

But this statement also talks about magic, implying that by using its creativity and its willingness to suspend disbelief the audience will come away with a transcendent experience. This isn't the case.

Johnny, a 14-year-old boy from New Jersey, is bullied by his peers and taunted by his Glee Club teacher for being “a little light on your feet.” He soon splits for New York City to escape from his miserable life and find something better — particularly people who will appreciate him.

The casting of this role is crucial.

A teenage boy with the potential charisma would be ideal. Instead, we have writer/actor Manuel Simons, overweight and approaching middle age. Of course, he's asked us to enter a magical space where we can accept this as real. But is accepting such a thing the best choice for the play?

An alarming element of the performance is that it had no pace — or rather, it had only one pace, which flattened any sense of expectancy in the audience. Various lines used a repetitive stress pattern, making it difficult to listen. Pauses within lines were all but nonexistent. These problems eventually created an evening that seemed much longer than it actually was.

David, Johnny’s singing teacher in New York, is a caricature rather than a bona fide character. Although we see him many times, he never develops into a three-dimensional human being. As a character, he's labored rather than funny.

On the other hand, George, Johnny’s teenage friend in New York, is the most relaxed and believable character on stage. He gets the slang and speech just right and seems to have authentic feelings. With this characterization, Simons doesn’t seem like he’s struggling to prove something.

In the end, we're offered Johnny’s adulation of Bruce Springsteen as if it might solve his problems. We're a nation of rampant idolizers, but this seems a paltry dream on which to hang an abused gay teenager’s hopes.

(Get upcoming performance dates and venue details here.)



06.12.2010 at 01:12 Reply
Did we see the same show?!?! According to your review Mr. Sterner it seems you missed the point of the show. I agree with you, casting is crucial- maybe you would have been a better choice? According to your inability to relate it seems that you have never had the opportunity to be misrepresented, denied equal rights, ostracized, or bullied. Calling Simons "overweight and approaching middle age" feels (and sounds) like the work of a bully. Is that what you are? A bully? Maybe it was good for you to see the show. Too bad you didn’t take anything away from it- beyond the need to support the stereotype that all gay men are supposed to be skinny, party bois. I guess you missed the part when the idolatry of Bruce Springsteen is literally pushed out of the protagonist's life, I guess you missed the moment when that 14 year old boy decides that he doesn’t need to hide behind an idol- but can be one all by himself. Did you miss that? For me- the play continually focused on the fact that we are all imperfect creatures who have to make our own way and in many ways create our own identities. No matter who we are. As a gay man in Cincinnati it took me years to come to terms with who I was and even more years to feel comfortable walking outside, being myself. I can only imagine that it took Simons as many years to come to terms with his own experiences until the point that he was able to explore them through writing and theater. I am glad to have seen his show. I loved it- I thought it was quickly paced, edgy and heartfelt, with moments of extreme hilarity. I will never look at Harry Potter in the same way! Thank you to Manuel Simons for putting this work out there, and for being courageous . . . enough. For me Queer in the U.S.A. WAS a transcendent moment, I only wish I could have seen it as a 14 year old boy.


06.12.2010 at 06:54 Reply
Another view of Queer in the USA Submitted by Kristin Dietsche on Sat, 06/12/2010 - 12:05. See this show! check out my blog to see why: http://kristindietsche.wordpress.com/2010/06/12/queer-in-the-usa-last-chance-to-see-it-tonight/ Full text below: Queer in the USA–last chance to see it tonight! This show is WAY better than the negative buzz and the awful review in CityBeat might suggest. In fact, I found it to be one of the strongest performances of the Fringe. What’s the deal, Cincinnati? Two theories: 1) We don’t listen to Bruce Springsteen very carefully here in the midwest. Case in point, when the great man himself performed here in 2002, the audience booed him for supporting OTR and labor unions (hello?). This show is rich with the nuances and power of four decades of Springsteen’s work as a master storyteller, American artist, and icon of heterosexual masculinity. If you don’t know Springsteen, you may not get this show, and you won’t get the major thrill that I got when suddenly Manuel Simons brings him to life, right there in front of you, saying just what I know Bruce would totally say in that circumstance. 2) The gay-themed one-person show has been a Cincinnati Fringe Festival staple, and we have some pretty set expectations for what this show should be: autobiography, self-deprecating humor, and brave confession– last year Kevin Thornton hit it out of the park with this genre in Sex, Dreams, and Self-Control. That was a great show, but that’s not the project of Queer in the USA, which is not autobiography and more poignant and thoughtful than hilarious. Maybe the campy marketing for this show doesn’t help– Despite what you’ve heard, this is a very well-crafted and carefully workshopped piece with a spectacular performance. It deserves our attention.


07.31.2010 at 02:16 Reply
Ahh, this is the Ohio I know well and the reason I am happy to have moved away from the place of my birth. This reviewer reflects a typical Ohioan's inability and unwillingess to comprehend anything beyond what is already familiar to him. Mr. Sterner was comfortable with the character of George because George is like the average Midwestern male, not too crazy or emotional. Sensible. That's the permissible range of behavior for gay teens in Ohio. The whole point of the play is about what it is like to be different from the average -- different from someone's expectations. I saw the show in DC recently and it moved me to tears. Mr. Simons was wonderful in portraying all eight roles and his heartfelt performance transcended mere appearance. When he was Johnny, I saw a confused, shy, sensitive teenage boy, not a "man approaching middle age." And throughout the show, I clearly saw someone who has felt the pain of being scorned for being different from expectations.