STAGE REVIEW : A Tossed-In Gay Theme Just Confuses 'Gemini' Play

Albert Innaurato's "Gemini," now at the Costa Mesa Civic Playhouse, starts off like an ethnic comedy, a slice-of-life urban number.

The setting is the poor Italian section of South Philadelphia, where Francis Geminiani is staying with his father during summer break from Yale. The old man is pretty much a stereotype of what a lovable Italian is suppose to be: He's loud but wise, he lacks manners but has a heart the size of a giant plate of cannelloni.

Francis' neighbors are lovable too. There's Lucille Pompi, his father's nervous Italian girlfriend, and Bunny Weinberger, the earthy, hard-drinking Jewish mother who lives next door. She's got a wacky kid. His name is Herschel.

Into this melting pot are thrown Judith and Randy Hastings, Francis' rich, white-bread pals who have come from Yale to visit on his birthday. Will everybody get along? Hmmm, Francis' people sure are noisy!

But right when it seems as if "Gemini" is going to be merely a street-wise comedy of culture-mixing and related high jinks, Innaurato tosses in a serious element: homosexuality.

Francis, it turns out, had an affair with the beautiful Judith, but he also has strong feelings for her brother, Randy. He's had those feelings for other guys too. What's going on here? The lovemaking with Judith was good, wasn't it? Francis is very confused. And so is the audience.

"Gemini" is not a bad play, but it's not an especially good one, either. It's marked by a middle-of-the-road sensibility. Innaurato, although he tiptoes up to the dilemma of what it must be like to be young and gay, never really faces it head-on.

He'd rather be an entertainer. And he does provoke some good laughs with his in-your-face characters. But the gay issue never seems to take hold, never coming across as much more than a device to generate tension. The playwright especially loses it in the end, when his resolution is so neatly packaged and convenient that it lacks conviction.

Nonetheless, "Gemini" is still watchable, mainly because director Jon Sidoli lets the characters have at it. Innaurato may have sketched them simplistically, but he did give them bold strokes, which Sidoli hits on at once. This noisy production, while far from luminous, has some bright moments.

Most of them come when Bryan Burnes' father and Jo Black's Bunny are on stage. Both actors get our attention by bringing flair to their roles. As Bunny's son, Gil Fuhrer is annoying, just like most hyperactive kids.

In a role that is not written all that well, Steven Shults does reasonably well with Francis, giving him a tortured self-introspection that contrasts with the robustness of the rest of the cast. But he should make Francis more accessible. He's so selfish, it's amazing that these good people put up with him.

Both Laura Hinsberger and Aaron Paholski give capable performances as the bland brother-and-sister team, and Harriet Whitmeyer's Lucille does nicely in a background role.

The set--Eugene McDonald's well-crafted rendering of a meager back yard--and the lighting, also by McDonald, are pluses here.

'GEMINI'

A Costa Mesa Civic Playhouse production of Albert Innaurato's comedy. Directed by Jon Sidoli. With Steven Shults, Jo Black, Laura Hinsberger, Aaron Paholski, Gil Fuhrer, Bryan Burnes and Harriet Whitmeyer. Set and lighting by Eugene McDonald. Sound by Jim Bell. Plays Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. through May 7 at 661 Hamilton St., Costa Mesa. Tickets: $6.50 to $7.50. (714) 650-5269.

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