“In the Closet” by Siegmund Fuchs is a moving and thoughtful examination of aging among gay men, at least in part. It also looks at the gay experience at different stages of life. Set in a “a large, metaphorical closet,” the cast features four men— one 18, one in his late 20s, one in is mid-40s, and one in his mid-60s. The premise is that for all the advancement and openness of half century since the Stonewall riots, there are times when one has to retreat to the closet, not so much to hide as to reassess and heal. No matter the age, it’s not always easy being gay, and Fuchs confronts the different challenges that come with aging. I won’t give away the central conceit that links these four men, which gives the play a theatrical and fascinating dimension when it’s revealed.
Fuchs has drawn distinct and recognizable characters facing everything from initial coming out to loss of a partner and the invisibility many gay men experience as middle age encroaches and they are not quite ready to accept the passage of time. This might sound like an obvious, sociological study, but it’s a sensitive, emotive, thoughtful, and theatrical examination of the life process of gay men moving through a world that is not always welcoming. Its structure is abstract and poetic, and the effect is moving and thought-provoking.
Directed by Eli Carpenter in the tiny studio space at Theatre Row, the play is simply mounted, but the excellent and highly talented cast brings the story to life with impressive clarity and authenticity, no mean feat since they are required to function both as characters and symbols. Each of the actors — Paul Page as the man in his 60s, James O’Hagan-Murphy as the man in his 40s, Ed Rosini as the man in his 20s, and Ryan Avalos as John, the 18-year-old still in the closet — gave their characters distinct humanity while painting a picture of the arc of a life in the gay community.
This is an important and original work, one that deserves a bigger production and a broader audience. It’s bold in its intentions and unflinching in its examination of how time and living present new challenges, often ones for which we are not ready. We may at times retreat to the closet, but hopefully only momentarily, before coming out again stronger and ready to take up life on its terms.
IN THE CLOSET | Studio Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd St. | Jun. 13-15 at 8 p.m.; Jun. 16 at 3 p.m.| Tickets are $32.25 at telecharge.com or 212-239-6200 | Two hrs., 30 mins., with intermission