On the Farm and In the Pub

A look at gay rural life is sweet, while a look at Irish urban life falls short

“Farm Boys” by Amy Fox and Dean Gray is the new play running at the Blue Heron. The story is based on a book of the same name about gay men in the rural Midwest, and while fairly conventional, it has a sweetness about it that is consistently engaging.

Part memory play and part coming out story and examination of popular perceptions of homosexuality, the story concerns John who inherits a farm from his first lover and brings his current lover Kim to see what they can do to carry on with it. The urban versus bucolic theme is here, but with a more contemporary gay sensibility. While John can’t wait to escape his rural upbringing, Kim feels drawn to the freedom nature offers.

Nothing new here, but the characters are appealing and the dialogue believable and the performances by Thomas James O’Leary as John and David Drake as Kim are very well done, consistently credible and perfectly scaled to the tiny theater. As John tries to figure out what’s next, he keeps encountering the ghost of Lyle, the man who left him the farm, played with warmth and good humor by Jim Madden. There’s a closeted boy, a repressive church and an understanding female friend Lois, played by the excellent Joan Grant, and while the whole enterprise seems as corny as Kansas in August, it’s nonetheless a charming and heartfelt evening.

The solid direction is by Jim Pelegano and the sets and lighting by Daniel Ettinger are innovative and among the most sophisticated and versatile use of the Blue Heron space I’ve seen. This is the last weekend for this show, and it’s well worth your time.

A tougher sell was the recent premiere staging of “The Lepers of Baile Baste.” Playwright Ronan Noone pens some very good dialogue, and he is adept at heaving cathartic speeches at hungry actors the way one might hurl bloody beef to a ravenous tiger. But what he hasn’t done is write a coherent or believable play. Under all the emotional pyrotechnics and overwrought events, “The Lepers of Baile Baste” is a pallid story that posits that childhood physical and sexual abuse leads to a life a of alcoholism and sexual dysfunction. And while there is a lot of screaming—and more than a little plot manipulation—the stock characters and situations seem dated.

The play mostly takes place in a bar in Ireland where a group of former school friends drink, kid and do the “guy thing” together. We get a lot of posturing, a suicide, suspicion of homosexuality and fist fighting. The characters are so predictable—and kind of boring—that it’s no wonder the only other person who shows up at the bar is a late-stage alcoholic named Sean. (Fans of BBC TV will recognize the type from the comedy “Father Ted,” the old drunk given to intermittent outbursts.)

Noone fails to dig deeper into his characters, to give a sense of who they are and why they do what they do. When the “truth” is finally revealed, it feels uniquely personal to the characters, even idiosyncratic. It does not become the now-commonplace and strident condemnation of the Roman Catholic Church.

The recent production of the play, for all its flaws, was still engaging, thanks to a talented director and a wonderful cast. Director David Sullivan has a wonderful sense of the stage as a world and the different physical and vocal dynamics of the characters. The cast was consistently excellent. In particular, David Ian Lee, Dara Coleman, Ciaran Crawford and Jeffrey M. Bender as the four friends had finely etched and well-developed relationships. One only wishes that the script had given them more to do in that vein.

While “ripped from the headlines” may work at times, in this case it’s not enough, and one ends up feeling ripped off.

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