Entertainment » Theatre

Up the Rabbit Hole

by Joshua Smalley
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Sep 27, 2017
Quinn Coughlin
Quinn Coughlin  

"Up the Rabbit Hole," a new play by Andy Halliday and directed by G.R. Johnson, brings a story of drugs, sex, and cowboy bedsheets to Theater for the New City for the team's next collaboration. Unlike their 2014 "Nothing But Trash" -- the absurd 1950s camp-fest featuring gay incest and an impressive array of six packs -- this production takes on the playwright's darker personal story of addiction and sexual violence.

Our protagonist is Jack (Tyler Jones), a young gay (white) man who lives in New York City and lacks direction in his life, opting to spend his time recklessly using drugs and pursuing careless sexual encounters. He is joined in the play's opening scene by Timothy (Quinn Coughlin), an attractive, self-absorbed, and sadistic "straight" friend with whom Jack does lines of cocaine for days on end. Timothy gets off on Jack's attention, and quickly resorts to violence to prove his dominance over him.

Jack is consumed with tracking down and connecting to his birth mother, something he feels will give his life new purpose. His tightly-wound adopted mother Helen (Laralu Smith) is not happy about it. Once he receives a letter that gives his birth mother Angela's identity (also played by Smith), he decides to pay her a visit along with his newly discovered gay half-brother Bradford (Andrew Glaszek).

His reconnection to his family brings about a process of renewal, one that is further supported by Jack's blossoming relationship with the wiser and more mature Robert (Peter Gregus). But just when Jack thinks his life is on the up and up, his past threatens to throw him back down.

"In the queer community, bringing up anything negative about ourselves is a prickly business-which makes sense since we have fought so long for equality and respect," says playwright Halliday. "I wrote 'Up the Rabbit Hole,' in part, to wake our community up to this epidemic that no one is talking about and to disrupt the idea that we must constantly propagate a positive queer image."

I'm not so sure "no one is talking about" this epidemic, but I commend Halliday for putting himself forward in such a vulnerable medium. He hopes audiences could benefit from telling his story "with candor and humor, making people laugh at the absurd situations that happened in my real-life nightmare."

And there is certainly humor here, despite the heavier subject matter. However, I wish the play went further to truly show how "absurd" and nightmarish Jack's situation is, instead opting for easy answers and characterizations.

Timothy, for example, while evenly played by Coughlin, has no redemptive qualities as the story's villain, and is easy for the audience to write off. His abuse is expected and lacks nuance, as does Jack's handling of the situation. And while cocaine addiction keeps Jack locked up in his room for three days, this well-worn narrative would be more dramatically viable if the drug (other than its connection to Timothy) led to real consequences for the character.

Jack is wonderfully (albeit a tad nervously) played by Jones, who manages to capture the character's quirky and campy traits that will make the audience fall for him. His saviors are half-brother Bradford and lover Robert, played well by Glaszek and Gregus respectively, who both share pasts darkened by drug use.

The brother relationship developed by Jack and Bradford is sweet, and Glaszek is charming. Robert's character is on-the-nose at times and a bit boring, but Gregus plays him admirably. The duality of Smith's portrayals as both of Jack's mothers works well, with each performance complementing the other.

The direction by Johnson felt uneven at times, especially with the sometimes-awkward dynamic between Jack and Timothy, but generally was well executed in the space. The scenic design by Dan Daly was simple but effective: a raised platform in the center of the stage fit the varied needs of each scene, and the curved spiraled backdrop evoked an upward movement congenial to the progression of Jack's story. Costume design by Tyler M. Holland with fit the characters well (both on the actors and off), and the lighting and sound were solidly finessed by Joseph Thompson and Jacob Subotnick respectively.

While it may be a story that we have heard before in the queer community, it is worth noting this creative team's frankness and bravery for pursuing a narrative examining the pitfalls of gay morality -- a subject that is touchy, to say the least. At the very least, it comes with a happy ending.

"Up the Rabbit Hole" runs through October 15 at Theater for the New CIty, 155 1st Avenue at 10th Street, New York, NY. For information or tickets, call 212-868-4444 or visit theaterforthenewcity.net

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