Kristian O'Hare's vulgar new play, "The Gay American," leaves one disgusted and numb. Tracing the rise and fall of closeted New Jersey governor James McGreevey (Neal Starbird), the show purports to offer a "provocative investigation of sexual politics." This is true only if "provocative investigation of sexual politics" actually means tasteless Jew jokes, an incoherent plotline and multiple graphic descriptions of sperm in various states.
Presumably conceived to articulate the damage done by politicians who privilege success over honesty, the play implies a mentorship between Mark Foley (Walter Brody), famously accused of pedophilia, and McGreevey, forced to resign over accusations of homosexual behavior. Although thematic logic underlies O'Hare's choice to connect the two men, the alignment proves awkward. O'Hare himself seems to rethink it in the play's final moments, borrowing a minor character to delivers an out-of-the-blue monologue distinguishing pedophiles from gays. More problematic than the alliance is O'Hare's one-dimensional rendering of McGreevey. While closeted politicians are certainly responsible for their harassing actions, they are also victims of a culture which forces gays to choose between political triumph and an integrated self. Vilifying McGreevey is a cop-out. A more nuanced, perhaps even sympathetic representation might have saved the piece, alas; O'Hare is looking to create a punching bag, not a person.
The accomplished actors in the cast do their best with the material, but O'Hare doesn't write characters, he writes one-liners and diatribes, then hurriedly sketches out mouthpieces to advance his clumsy agenda. His women are particularly weak, screeching queens rather than credible human beings. Jim's daughter Morag (an against-all-odds nearly sympathetic Stevie Chaddock) acts more like your stereotypical gay boy than a 16-year-old girl. Her monologue about donning tiaras with her online boyfriend to sit in the dark drinking and watching a Bette Davis film rings particularly false.
Overall, every line and bit of stage business seems designed to shock, from Morag's half-naked delivery of most of her dialogue, to Jim's wife's repeated threats against her newborn daughter's life, to the overabundance of onstage blowjobs. Although Nick Shaw's set has its high points (McGreevey's bathroom "office," for one), director Allison Shoemaker's staging often obscures upstage action, adding to a general sense of chaos.
More an assault than an experience, "The Gay American" is a disorganized mishmash of sex and malice. But most distressing? When O'Hare focuses on language, some lyrical phrases emerge. One hopes that in future endeavors he will be less fixated on shocking, instead leaving space for his work to awe.