Happily ever after - kinda, sorta

  • by Richard Dodds
  • Wednesday November 15, 2017
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"Welcome to library school." Has a deadlier sentence ever opened a play? But fear not, for those words are something of a joke even if we don't yet know what that joke is. In "Le Switch," the thirtysomething David is a professor of library sciences who thinks of himself as a queer outlier, and yet wears suspenders unironically, as his sister points out, and has a collection of books that he prizes for their never having been opened. As for himself, he has been opened romantically, but has been quick to slam the covers closed whenever any sort of commitment is suggested. As for marriage, well, that's a non-starter.

Philip Dawkins' "Le Switch" dives into the I-do/I-don't conundrum that same-sex couples faced when laws began changing in 2011, and while this play is not about to make a commitment itself, it lets various voices be heard in engaging fashion. New Conservatory Theatre Center, which presented Dawkins' "The Homosexuals" in 2015, now has the playwright's newer play on stage in a strongly acted production that finds its way to a happy ending without necessarily defining what constitutes a happy ending for these characters.

Inasmuch as David is a commitment-phobe, it's no surprise that he's ready to flee in horror at the mention of marriage. He's not at all happy that he's being pressed into duty as the best man at his closest friend's wedding, and that it is a two-groom ceremony only exacerbates his distaste for a ritual that he sees as both heteronormative and a painful reminder of his own parents' miserable marriage.

David is also at an awkward age, floating somewhere between the younger generation that sees gay marriage as a given and an older generation that managed decades-long relationships without it. There are representatives of both in his life, and he nearly buckles under the conflicting signals after a bachelor party leads him to Montreal and into the arms of a cuddly young florist. Everything is merveilleux until it turns out that the bilingual Benoit is a nuptial-oriented beau.

Dawkins mixes humor, romance, and pathos in the scenes that tell not only the story of David and Benoit, but also of his twin sister who's in a marriage of convenience, his eager-to-marry best friend, and an older mentor still mourning the loss of his longtime lover. There are clever bursts of dialogue throughout the play, including zingers that work best at those times when not being obviously lobbed for a laugh.

Steve Rhyne projects the appealing sheepishness of a young Jimmy Stewart as David, while Ryan Vasquez creates in Benoit a slightly smug character of youthful magnetism. Donald Currie is genial company as David's older friend, and he strongly connects in a poignant showcase scene in which his character explains how he and his late partner found everything they needed without the opportunity to legally marry. Nancy French has a down-to-earth centeredness as David's sister, and their moments together are both refreshing and funny. Brian J. Patterson is abundantly outrageous as the best friend who says he "majored in making a scene."

Director Tim Bruett's production runs smoothly on Sarah Phykitt's set of sliding panels illuminated with changing projections. "Le Switch" is a play of comfortable charms and modestly dynamic situations. The big question it asks - "Do you take this man ...?" - doesn't really get an answer unless "It depends" counts as a solution.

"Le Switch" will run at New Conservatory Theatre Center through Dec. 10. Tickets are $25-$50. Call (415) 861-8972 or go to nctcsf.org.

A commitment-phobic bookworm (Steve Rhyne, left) meets an eager young florist (Ryan Vasquez) during a trip to Montreal in "Le Switch" at New Conservatory Theatre Center. Photo: Lois Tema