Childhood Demons Lurk in the Basement of This Couple's Forever House
Elyse Mirto, left, Joel Swetow, James Liebman and Michael Rubenstone in Forever House by Tony Abatemarco
Photo by Ed Krieger
Tony Abatemarco’s play Forever House, about a gay couple who purchase a home and then struggle to make a go of their partnership, is something of a hybrid. In some places it’s an airy situation comedy that drifts into horror-lite when one of the partners swears he’s seen the ghost of a wailing child in their basement. Elsewhere it’s an attempt to take on homophobia in 2016 Los Angeles, and to show us the inner chaos of someone who's yet to shake his childhood demons.
Act one introduces us to Jack (Michael Rubenstone) and Ben (James Liebman), a happy couple who, after four blissful years, have undertaken the momentous step of buying a home in a straight, suburban community. Ben is a sunny, stable and thoughtful guy who ably weathers the shifting moods of his edgier partner. Now that they’re in the house, he’s ready for the next step: adopting a child. The first half of the play deals with them weighing this option; it’s also decked with the cutesy banter of loving couples, and includes their comic encounter with an uptight bigot across the street (Elyse Mirto) and the alcoholic real estate agent (Joel Swetow) she summons for backup.
Act two has more of both real humor and heft; here we meet Jack’s Jewish mother, Evelyn (Dale Raoul, generating laughs from the moment she enters), and the pious Christian couple next door, Francine and Pete (Mirto and Swetow), who huddle in Jack and Ben’s basement after an earthquake demolishes their bungalow. This happenstance precipitates a noteworthy interchange between Jack, who has previously displayed an unbending prejudice against evangelicals, and Francine (a touching turn by Mirto), who reveals unanticipated secrets beneath her meek exterior.
There’s also a choice scene where Ben finally calls Jack out on his narcissistic self-pity, which has been sparked by the news that the child they’d planned to adopt would be remaining with his biological mother. But Jack’s lengthy monologue near the end is a rush of recollections and accompanying images that seems tacked on rather than integral to this particular piece. It makes the play feel too long.
Directed by Elizabeth Swain, the three supporting performers are adept and entertaining, while Liebman emanates naturalness and an appealing warmth that invests you in his story. Rubenstone needs to dig deeper, however, since his character’s experience — the scapegoated kid in the schoolyard, among other things — is so pivotal. Letting us share that fully is something he hasn’t yet achieved.
The Skylight Theater, 1816½ N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz; through Feb. 28. (213) 761-706, skylighttix.com.
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