Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 37 / 14 September 2017
 

Military male bonding

Theatre


Elijah Guo and Joshua Lomeli play West Point cadets with a special bond in Fighting Mac!, a new play by John Fisher for Theatre Rhino. (Photo: Kent Taylor)
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Do more choices mean more freedom? Yes, frequently, but there can be a price paid as our internal GPS devices can't keep up with life's expanding roadmaps. By coincidence that nevertheless reflects a contemporary zeitgeist, New Conservatory Theatre Center and Theatre Rhinoceros are concurrently presenting plays that intertwine the opportunities for gay characters in current and past time. The distribution of potential joys and miseries may get rearranged, but the human brain is like a whack-a-mole game popping up a new complication as soon as a previous one has been shoved down.

While London-based Alexi Kaye Campbell's The Pride at NCTC alternates scenes involving gay life among parallel characters in 1958 and 2008, John Fisher divides more loosely parallel scenarios by more than a century in Fighting Mac! The newest play by Theatre Rhino's artistic director is a work of startling revelations, campy contemporary humor, horrific battle scenes, and the kind of dramatic license of historical events that culminates in an utterly unpredictable conclusion.

The play's title comes from the affectionate nickname given to Sir Hector MacDonald, a lowly-born Scotsman who became a war hero through a series of Victorian-era battles around the globe, notably celebrated in Scotland for rising to the level of major-general in a system that usually reserved such prestigious posts for the English gentry. That a ranker born into such ignoble circumstances could climb so high also made him resented by those could undermine his career – which indeed began when rumors of his homosexual behavior began to spread.

We are introduced to MacDonald in the first scene, but we soon realize we are in the 21st century as a high school senior with a MacDonald obsession is in a vintage military costume preparing for a performance he is preparing on his hero. The tip-off is the house fan lugged on stage by another teen in street clothes to create a music video-type wind effect that will stylishly flutter the faux Mac's silk scarf. These two school chums living in Marin are obviously gay, but in different stages of denial. Despite DADT, Jesse has wrangled an appointment to West Point, while his Mormon buddy Daniel will be heading off to BYU for college and eventually marriage, children, and self-hatred.

As we flashback to Sir Hector's exploits, there are moments when it seems we are watching scenes from Jesse's theatrical project, but that device fades away as their two stories become increasingly complicated in both military and personal dramas. By the time Jesse has been shipped off to Afghanistan in 2012, DODA has been repealed but homophobia remains a barrier for advancement, especially for Jesse's fellow cadet/boyfriend, whose post-West Point ambitions are about acquiring power in Washington. Their reunion becomes emotionally wrought as their discordant views on coming out as gay men rip the relationship apart.

Sir Hector, while still in his glory days, has his own complications, including a secret and mostly sexless marriage to an open-minded Scottish woman, and a carnal relationship with his commanding officer Field Marshal Herbert Kitchener, who believes wives sap soldiers' energies while all-male environs facilitate fraternal bonds.

Fisher's characters are fairly exploding with ideas and arguments about sexuality, friendship, gay self-loathing, ambition, labels, and even the notion that Mormon wives might use strap-ons to help assuage tottering husbands' gay urges. The breadth of ideas that Fisher wants to share likely goes beyond even the already broad scope of the play, but his staging of his own material is sharp, forceful, and emotional, not to mention at times believably treacherous on Jon Wai-keung Lowe's cliffside set at Thick House.

Many of the actors have current or recent student connections to UC Berkeley, where Fisher first established his theatrical profile in the early 1990s. Despite their youth, which in several cases is of course appropriate, they create a strong ensemble, with Joshua Lomeli as modern-day Jesse, William J. Brown III as Sir Hector, Ann Lawler as Hector's wife, Elijah Guo as Jesse's West Point boyfriend, Erik Johnson as Jesse's Mormon friend, and Fisher himself as Kitchener all making strong impressions.

Fighting Mac! continues Fisher's interest in combining sexual questions and military matters, earlier manifested in Amnesia, Special Forces, and Combat! There is a passion in the men fighting/men loving conundrum, and his latest play is an almost giddy expansion on this enduringly hot topic.

 

Fighting Mac! will run through June 19 at Thick House. Tickets are $15-$30. Call (800) 838-3006 or go to www.therhino.org.






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