Harvey Fierstein stars in Martin Sherman’s new play at the Pubic.
By: Patrick Christiano
Martin Sherman’s Gently Down the Stream opens in the well-appointed London flat of Beau, an aging gay 61-year-old lounge pianist, played by the legendary Harvey Fierstein. Beau has picked up someone from an online dating service and invited him home, where he has just lived out most aging gay men’s fantasy of having sex with a well-built younger man. The man named Rufus is a 28-year-old attorney played by Gabriel Ebert, a Tony winner for Matilda the Musical and a cast member from Fierstein’s Broadway play about a get-away for cross dressers, Casa Valentina. Aside from the sex, which takes place off-stage before the play begins, Derek McLane’s impeccably imagined design for the pianist’s home lined with towering bookshelves filled with a lifetime of memories may be the highlight of the evening directed by Sean Mathias.
We quickly learn the ulterior motive behind Rufus’s visit. He has googled Beau and discovered that Beau was a pianist for the celebrated cabaret singer Mable Mercer in the 1960s. Although Rufus insists to Beau’s disbelief that he is attracted to older men, Rufus clearly wants to learn not only about Mable, but more importantly about gay culture prior to his birth from someone who lived through the years he has only read about, the HIV epidemic and a time before gay rights.
The two men begin a relationship and over the intervening 13 years Rufus, who is a manic-depressive, proposes marriage. Beau snubs Rufus’s pleas for marriage insisting that their relationship cannot stand the test of time asserting that he doesn’t’ want to take Rufus’s life from him, even encouraging him to see other men. Meanwhile Rufus begins filming Beau relating his experiences as a gay man in context to the challenges history and oppression presented him.
The gimmick here, of course, is Harvey Fierstien, who brings his trademark croaky voice and a baggage of milestone theatrical accomplishments to the role. The combination makes it impossible to get past the fact that Harvey is a star recycling his Torch Song Trilogy character, which is essentially Harvey playing himself. The results, although witty and charming, dilute the emotional impact of the evening and don’t serve the play beyond filling the house by selling tickets.
The filmed sequences are beautifully written testaments staged as monologues in front of a dropped curtain concealing the set. They are the real heart of the story and occur at several points throughout the evening. Beau’s reminiscences about the cathartic moments of his life feel like the playwright’s main intention for the evening and stop the action of the play, which only presents minimal conflict already.
When Rufus meets Harry, a performance artist 7 years his junior played by Christopher Sears, the story slowly fades to a predictable conclusion, but not without Beaus’ evocative stories performed by Harvey Fierstein giving us something significant to reflect upon.
Gently Down the Stream is now playing at the Public Theater (Martinson Hall), 425 Lafayette Street through May 21, 2017. For tickets or more information call 212-260-2400 or online at www.publictheater.org For Tickets Call 212 967-7555 Running Time 1 Hour 40 Minutes Closes May 21, 2017 Photos: Joan Marcus