Audiences at LGBT-centric theater company Island City Stage were treated to another world premiere last weekend, James L. Beller’s “Son.” Like many new works, the powerful drama shows promise—with a little more work and a whole lot of editing.
Day (Elizabeth Price) and Jean (Arlette Del Toro) are a longtime lesbian couple who find their eagerly anticipated wedding day disrupted when their 15-year-old son, Perry (Gabe Vasquez), is arrested for sexual assault.
Over the course of more than two hours and two acts with 29 scenes, the couple’s relationship is tested and broken. They must all come to terms with the “family” they forged over 12 years and the revelation of the traumatic sexual assault that left Jean pregnant with a son.
Director Michael Leeds makes the most of the wealth of material, drawing raw, emotional performances, especially from Del Toro. Newcomer Vazquez, a local high school student, is obviously a natural as the evasive, temperamental teen Perry.
But, the story could be so much tighter. Many of the scenes seem superfluous. Jean and Day’s friends, Margaret (Sabrina Lynn Gore) and Lisa (Erynn Dalton) make appearances at the beginning of each act to establish the lesbian “bona fides” of the play, but then disappear.
Even the arrest scene, dominated by an especially stiff cameo by Juan Alberto Perez as the police officer, just doesn’t seem necessary to advance the wrenching drama.
Some of the blackouts lasted longer than the scenes that followed, perhaps an attempt at a cinematic feel that never successfully translates to the stage. Each of the main characters is also given a suitably wrenching, spotlight-lit monologue, a device that could be further explored.
The Island City Stage team puts forth a first-class effort: Michael McClain transformed the Abyss Theatre into a handsome lesbian household somewhere in the suburbs of Annapolis, and effectively lit by Travis Neff, despite a couple of miscues on opening night that will inevitably get worked out.
Sound design is often an afterthought at some other local theaters, but David Hart’s effects are natural throughout the play (cellphone notifications, video games, rainfall), even if the incidental music feels somewhat clichéd.
The sold out opening night audience of mostly gay men and straight allies—Island City’s core demographics—seemed engaged throughout this wrenching story of a lesbian family, but the unasked (and politically incorrect) question also remains whether the lesbian community will embrace a play about lesbians written by a gay man. That may ultimately present a bigger challenge than a few rounds of rewrites.
Island City Stage presents James L. Beller’s “Son” through May 7 at Abyss Theatre, 2304 N. Dixie Highway in Wilton Manors. Tickets are $35 at IslandCityStage.org.