Highly Recommended **** Because Daniel Talbott’s , “Mike and Seth” is about two friends, one gay and one straight, sharing a hotel room, we are expecting a play about the complexities of gay-straight friendship and the sound of pornography on the television before the lights even come on builds on that expectation. However, it quickly becomes clear that this play’s scope is more universal; it is about the grief, comfort, and resentment that inevitably accompany any life-long friendship. It is Mike’s (a sensitive Derek Garza) wedding night and he is, somewhat inexplicably, sharing a hotel room at the Ritz with his gay, life-long, best friend: Seth (Michael Manocchio). As the night goes on and the snow piles up outside the Dallas Ritz Carleton, Mike panics, realizing that the commitment he has promised to make in the morning will alter his life while Seth grieves over the loss of his station as “best friend” which, tomorrow evening, will belong to Mike’s new wife.
Neither is able to sympathize with the other’s plight. Mike is far too wrapped up in himself to understand why Seth is so upset (At one point Seth complains to him, “I got an email the other day from your secretary about our travel arrangements), and for Seth, the looming marriage is so different from his own romantic disappointments and the unique challenges he has faced in love as a gay man coming of age at the turn of the 21st century that he can’t empathize with Mike’s terror over something from which he himself has been socially and, the play briefly notes, politically disenfranchised However, the enduring love and trust these two friends have had for each-other since early childhood is manifest through even their tensest moments, and gives them the comfort and solace needed to go forward. Although the acting occasionally lags for a few minutes (hardly surprising as both actors have to be on stage the entire time and speak only to each other), Derek Garza and Michael Manocchio portray their characters with incredible charisma, energy, and presence which they breathtakingly sustain through the entire play. Crucially, they both give equally skilled performances so that neither ever upstages, or has to carry, the other. Above all, they capture the love, affection, and trust of these life-long friends in a manner so convincing that it would be all too easy to chalk it up too rare chemistry without acknowledging the unquestioned diligent, hard-work, and talent of these actors.
Adam Webster’s direction ensures that the stories of conquests and frequent physical intimacies shared by the characters never go beyond signs of deep platonic affection. The tension, circumstance, nostalgia, and powerful emotions of the characters can be quite heavy, but this is relieved by a generous dispersion of jokes which are very funny even if they occasionally involve coarse language and graphic descriptions of sex acts. Consequently, this play, which might be called an emotional tragicomedy, will please a variety of theatre-going tastes: those who like to think, who like to laugh, who like to uplifted, and who like to weep for there is ample terror, beauty, and love.
The set (done by director Adam Webster) doesn’t really look like a room at the Ritz Carleton, but some parts of it, and the stage itself, is also serving for a sleazy motel room in another show called, ” Miles Away” which is running simultaneously, and the actors are more than talented enough to overcome its limits. The sound effects, which included texts, calls, and hotel pornography, must have presented unique challenges, but all went smoothly and were very convincing thanks to the work of Sound designer Stephen Gawrit and Board Operator Dan Cohen.
“Mike and Seth” is playing at The Side Project Theatre through August 24th, with performances Thursday through Friday at 7:30 PM and Sunday performances at 3:00 PM. The theater is about a block East of the Jarvis Redline stop. There is street parking (tight, but findable). Regular priced tickets are 20 dollars (seniors and students 15) and are available at: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/448429 The show runs for 75 minutes without an intermission.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “Mike and Seth”.