STAGE REVIEW : Sentiment Overwhelms Feeling in Drama of Friendship, AIDS : ‘Encore’ looks at the relationship between a straight woman and a gay man in simplistic, unrealistic terms.
Mona has a problem: She is in love with Jim.
Jim and Mona have a problem: He is gay and she is straight.
Mona has another problem: She doesn’t know Jim is gay.
Jim has a bigger problem: He has AIDS.
Mona has a solution to her problems: She will write a play with Jim. The play will be an AIDS primer about how there is no solution to Jim’s bigger problem.
I have a problem: I saw this play.
Much as I would like to report that “Encore” is worthy of the sentiment behind it, this play is not for grown-ups. Actually, I don’t know whom it’s for. The authors Molly Hardy and Jim Boyer have written a sketchy, bittersweet tribute to their own real-life friendship, which treats its audience like simple-minded children.
As a didactic play, it is awfully silly. A coloring book would give more information about AIDS and an advice column more instruction in all the good things “Encore” stands for (Encouraging Nurturing Caring Open Relationships with Everyone).
As a forum for ideas, it is stupefying. Nobody in real life could be as dim as Mona nor as colorless as Jim. And as a plea for understanding gay people, it is just plain maudlin. The monologues of the second-act therapy session, for instance, sound like “Chorus Line” retreads.
Worse, on the night I saw “Encore” at the Orange County Coalition of the Theatre Arts, it was all those things for not less than 2 hours and 20 minutes.
Exchanges between Jim and Mona turn out to be parodies of feeling: “There’s something missing and I can’t explain it,” says Jim, who pouts and looks away whenever Mona tries to embrace him.
“What’s missing?” asks Mona, who hasn’t a clue.
She is so far behind both Jim and the audience--and for so long--that somebody should slip her a note to fill her in.
“Oh Mona,” Jim finally lets on, “you’re not a jerk. It’s me. It’s not you.”
“Tell me the truth,” she replies. “I can take it.”
Jill Foor, in the thankless role of Mona, is an eyeful. A tall, animated brunette, she has the figure of a professional runway model and the face of Little Bo Peep. Hardy, who also directed the production, milks Foor’s stunning physical attributes for all their voyeuristic worth. The first-act setup is dominated by the long-limbed actress primping and wriggling like a narcissistic bimbo in a tiny black tubular dress.
Mona’s initial dismay on learning that Jim happens to be “a fag"--it is her term--soon gives way to noble empathy. By the second act, Mona has been transformed into a sort of Florence Nightingale who invariably brings Jim three pink balloons on her faithful hospital visits.
In fact, Mona’s entire characterization conveys a directorial touch of unconscious misogyny, to say nothing of an oddly patronizing attitude toward homosexuals.
Meanwhile, Christopher Wade plays Jim like a whiny sleepwalker. He is as phlegmatic as Mona is animated. Whether he is strumming his guitar and singing in a lackluster folk style--Jim is a singer-songwriter--or simply at the fringe of the action, Wade suggests an actor still in the tentative process of learning to be comfortable on stage.
Nick Ken Sigman, who appears in the second-act therapy session for AIDS patients, brings an inner urgency to his performance as a gay man outraged by the indifference of an uncaring world and shamed by irresponsible gay behavior. As an actor with obvious talent and training, Sigman might well have lent the play an adult coherence had he been cast as Jim.
Of the other players, Carol Albright is notable for her broadly satiric caricature of Nurse Allpain and Evonna Dianne Broda for her realistic portrait of a mother with AIDS. But the most realistic characterization comes from Joenathan Thompson, a drag queen playing himself in gold lame blouse, leather skirt and spike heels.
Technically, the production values are primitive. Some of the rudimentary scene changes seem to go on forever. Yet such defects could be easily overlooked if the amateurish play itself were not one “Encore” too many.
Produced by Molly Hardy, Mark Caton and Steve Wilbur for the Orange County Coalition of the Theatre Arts. Written by Molly Hardy and Jim Boyer. Directed by Molly Hardy. With Carol Albright, Evonna Dianne Broda, Mark Caton, John David, Jill Foor, T. Thomas Hunter, Nick Ken Sigman, Jan Tiehen, Joenathan Thompson and Christopher Wade. Through Dec. 30 at OCCTA, 729 W. 16th St., Costa Mesa. Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 7 p.m. Tickets: $10. (714) 361-9401.