at Cafe Voltaire
Together Alone, originally a low-budget black-and-white film by P.J. Castellaneta and David Dechant, won highest praise at gay and lesbian film festivals in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Toronto, and Berlin. It's easy to see how one could fall in love with this script, in which a potentially disastrous one-night stand turns into an intimate and reaffirming conversation about the intricacies of love and sex. Chicago Filmmakers dubbed it "one of the most honest, realistic, and intimate conversations between two gay men to ever appear on screen."
The movie Together Alone made such an impact on Franco Ray that he and his Upstart Theatre Company decided to take it off the screen and put it onstage. So many men wanted to play the two roles that director Ray double-cast both. But as sometimes happens in heartbreaking love affairs, the qualities that made the movie so attractive are the ones that also doom it as a play.
The best thing about Together Alone is that it allows both heterosexual and homosexual audiences to indulge in those murky, romantic thoughts about love and sex that have their origins in passionate one-night stands. The events unfurl in the bedroom of a homosexual man named Bryan who's just had an amazing experience with Bill, a guy he met in a bar. Bryan is awakened by a disturbing dream, gets out of bed, and in doing so wakes Bill. They start chatting, and it comes out that Bill's name isn't really Bill but Brian. Naturally, Bryan is a bit upset: "If I can't trust you to even tell me your name, how can I trust you in bed?" Good question.
It's also a dangerous question to ask after a one-night stand because naturally it leads to all sorts of other painful questions. Does he have some disease? How could he lie to me? How can he make love like that and not love me? Is there a future for this relationship? Can homosexual relationships ever have a future? These guys hardly know each other. They have nothing invested in their relationship except the last few hours of passion. But when Bryan asks Brian to leave, he won't go. Instead, they stay up through the night and explore all these questions.
In the movie, the men never leave the bed. They talk pillow talk, that intimate and personal stuff lovers do so well. The problem onstage is that, no matter how intriguing the conversation, pillow talk does not provide enough physical action. In a film the camera can move. It can focus on the intimate details that make such conversations enjoyable, and almost make the spectator a part of the conversation. Onstage, the actors must move or the scene becomes unbearably static--but the moment they move, that charming intimacy is lost.
It's a catch-22 I'm sure Ray considered but didn't give enough attention. The dialogue between Brian and Bryan is so rich that exploring its nuances is interesting for the audience, actors, and director alike. James E. Brown as Bryan and Joseph Beal as Brian (the evening I saw it) are completely comfortable in their characters, so much so that they give the impression they're just a couple of gay guys sitting around talking. Their conversation is incredibly realistic, but again, it's almost too realistic for the stage.
Even in a conversation with your best friend, lines like "Well, I was teaching at that time, because Patricia had said I . . . " are really frustrating when they have nothing to do with the point of the story. There's a lot of this loquacity in Together Alone, and it does little to move the story forward. Had Ray paid stricter attention to exploring the sexual nuances of their relationship, he could have offset these slow moments by developing their physical intimacy. True, occasionally the two cuddle. Sometimes they wrestle playfully, and every now and then they get erotic. But the rest of the time they're so far from each other--moving about so the stage won't become static--that their sexual energy dissipates to the point of disappearing. We forget that they're lovers. Near the end of the play Bryan says, "I don't want a one-night stand. I can't remember making love or a conversation like this ever." The conversation is good but the sexual energy has disappeared. Brown and Beal are strong enough actors to convey this energy. Should they do so, this absorbing play might become incredibly moving.