David L. Ray's Caught
In an L.A. apartment (Beverly Hills–adjacent, somebody mockingly informs a guest), Kenneth (Corey Brill) and Troy (Will Beinbrink) are preparing to be wed on Malibu Beach. Their flamboyant minister, Splenda (Micah McCain) — just ordained on the Internet — swirls around their apartment, when not rehearsing them in the living room, designed with photographic precision by Adam Flemming. Some of the stucco angles have a 1930s authenticity. The shelves are stocked with fastidious detail and decorated with the design of people who care about their home.
Home and family are the underlying ideas in David L. Ray's Caught, now at the Beverly Hills–adjacent Zephyr Theatre through Jan. 23, and possibly beyond, rumor has it.
Mercifully, it's not a marriage made in heaven. The two men squabble over who's the groom and who's the bride. Kenneth, who seems the gentler spouse-to-be, is touchy on the issue of who stands on the left and who stands on the right.
Other identity issues crop up as well.
A story emerges, for example, about one time Troy arrived at the airport with flowers to meet Kenneth, who had been speaking with his conservative seatmate about matters of family. When Kenneth saw Troy with bouquet in hand, he escaped in another direction, pretending he didn't even know his partner. It took a long time and a series of unreturned phone calls by Kenneth for their relationship to recover from that one. But it did. Sort of. So you can understand why Troy would be somewhat impatient with guys in closets. Just tell the damn truth, this play suggests, and let the chips ...
Troy's patience is tested once more when, on the eve of Kenneth and Troy's nuptials, Kenneth's sister, Darlene (Deborah Puette), calls in crisis en route from their small-town Georgia home, needing a place to flop. But Kenneth is too devoted to his family to rent her a room at a nearby hotel. He's also too scared to tell her the truth about his impending marriage, because she's something of a Bible Belter, married to an evangelical minister (Richard Jenik), whom we see throughout Act 1, back in Georgia, preaching on the virtues of, yes, family. That would be husbands and wives of the opposite gender. His sermon contains an explicit antipathy to same-sex marriages.
This means that on the eve of their wedding, for the sake of his biological family, Kenneth is asking Troy to disguise what they're about to do, and who they are. Naturally, this raises in Troy's mind the question of who Kenneth thinks his real family is.
Compounding matters, Darlene is coming to L.A. with teenage daughter Krystal (Amanda Kaschak) in tow.
This is the first time Darlene has been on an airplane, the first time she's visited Los Angeles or even been out of "God's country."
Darlene is in crisis and needs family, but here she, and her traditional interpretation of the Bible, are interlopers.
And so, the playwright sets up, and largely follows through on, a scintillating domestic comedy that caresses social themes and teeters into a brand of pedantry that almost nobody among L.A.'s audience of staunch acolytes would object to.
One character confuses Splenda's name with another sweetener, Equal. "Equal is for equal rights," Splenda jokes somewhat haughtily. (I was looking for the accompanying picket sign, but they must have left it backstage.)
Because the ultimate purpose of this play is to say that being gay is just fine, and being married to a same-sex partner is even better. It's the Theater of Assurance, a literary cousin to the works of Del Shores.
Among the play's many charms are Southern homilies that keep popping out: "You were so bucktoothed, you could have eaten corn on the cob through a keyhole." "That water is as hot as the devil's finger." "She's so ugly, she'd run a dog off a meat wagon."
Its grist comes from the revelation that Darlene's "family is sacred" minister husband, J.P., has been cheating on her, which is why she and their daughter are in California, and he isn't.
"You're a piece of shit, covered in gold," Darlene summons the strength to tell him. (Some audience members applauded.)
Though hypocrites such as J.P. famously lash out when exposed, playwright Ray deserves credit for giving J.P. moments of stunned introspection. These really are good people, all of them, and as sweet as a sitcom from the 1950s.
The play keeps spinning characters through conversations and confrontations. Most of them will undergo some kind of epiphany and transformation, more schematic than credible, but not enough so to insult our intelligence.
For keeping the play from slipping over a cliff into sentimental self-parody, Ray owes a debt of gratitude to the stunning ensemble, precisely directed by Nick DeGruccio.
You know an ensemble is sizzling when there's as much conversation behind the lines as within them. This is exactly what happens through the facial reactions of Darlene and Krystal, as they slowly start to realize what they're in the middle of.
In Puette's Darlene, you can track in the twitch of a lip and the curve of a brow the tug and pull between her pious defiance at what her brother is doing and personal rage that he left Georgia to do so, melting into an affirmation of what he's become — prompted by the pain caused by her husband's hypocrisy. She's in a wrestling match with herself, largely depicted in body language, and it's a fascinating bout to watch.
Krystal contains the poise and sweet elegance of a Southern beauty pageant finalist, which she is. She's a mistress of decorum, far better at masking her seething rebellion than is her Uncle Kenneth. To think, she says in a rare moment of candor, her dad, the shit, was sleeping around when he wouldn't even let her get her nose pierced! Kaschak portrays her as wistfully angelic, in a performance that borders on the hypnotic.
There's a kind of timeless magnetism that occurs when mother and daughter, from the Bible Belt, wander into an L.A. apartment, doe-eyed and with a bag of peaches as tidings.
It is the tiny rituals and expressions, the domestic truths, that forge this play's strongest virtues.
You know bombs are about to go off, a showdown between gentility and vulgarity, between the Bible that Kenneth still keeps, and the erotic art that Troy now has to hide in the garage for Kenneth's benefit.
When young Krystal's eyes sparkle while gazing at one of those paintings, you know we're in for a ride.
CAUGHT | By DAVID L. RAY | ZEPHYR THEATRE, 7456 Melrose Ave., L.A. | Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m., through Jan. 23 | (800) 595-4849, caughttheplay.com
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