Andy Halliday’s new play at Theatre for the New City, Up the Rabbit Hole, is a tale sweetly told, autobiographical in nature and well cast (kudos to David McDermott). Evenly directed by G.R. Johnson, the play lays out the story of a young dancer, Jack Harris (winningly played by Tyler Jones). Jack has lost his way, substituting the affections of a ne’er do well hustler, Timothy (played with sexual bravado by Quinn Coughlin), for the dancing career he once had. Fortunately, Jack meets the perfect boyfriend, Robert, and his birth mother, Angela, who, it just so happens, has the perfect brother for Jack (the appealing Andrew Glaszek as Bradford) and all ends well.
We’ve seen this story before (emotional pain fueling coke addiction) and we’ve seen these characters too (Jack Harris is reminiscent of McNally’s funny, obsessive Mendy in Lisbon Traviata or Buzz in Love! Valor! Compassion!). However, unlike the success of those plays and plays like Urban Folk Tales by Daniel Reitz (later the film Urbania on HBO), the obsession with the heteronormative (though not heterosexual) antagonist rings a bit false in Halliday’s work. Why so? Perhaps because in Mr. Halliday’s play, the good are so very good, and the bad are so very, very bad. Yes, bad boy Timothy is sexually enticing here, but there’s really nothing else alluring about him, so he’s easy to cast off. Just in the nick of time, Jack meets the perfect boyfriend in Robert Maltin. Peter Gregus, as the competent and successful boyfriend, Robert, is well cast. Gregus is warm, he's a solid actor, and therefore he’s powerful, both to the characters onstage and to the audience. Halliday’s work is witty at times, but the plot really revolves around Jack and his endless desire for the advances of a pseudo-heterosexual, who offers drugs and bad sex. In 2017, we are seeing a gay protagonist who professes his love for the foolish self-hating homosexual? Disappointing somewhat, but perhaps more plausible than I’d like to believe. Perhaps, my discomfort is that this play is entirely too plausible in 2017.
There’s a bit of theatrical magic at two moments in this play that I need to mention. Laralu Smith, a lovely actress who gives us a pair of dignified performances as two characters, both of Jack’s mothers, offers us a quick note of humor too. As Helen Harris, Jack’s adoptive mother, she forgets the name of the character she plays as Jack’s birth mother. We laugh with the author here, it feels right. Another really effective moment occurs while Jack is meditating. There’s also a beautiful set, sound, and sighting design at work here (by Dan Daly, Joe Thompson, and Jacob Subotnick, respectively) during which Jack’s reflection gives the entire evening’s proceedings a moment’s pause. It’s stunning and evocative and perhaps in another rewrite we might find out what he’s thinking. What have we (and Jack) learned? For if we are to take a journey into the abyss, we must find some enlightenment too. In the writer’s notes, Halliday suggests this play will give the LGBT community “hope." It’s a lovely thought, an excellent goal. Michelle Obama once said, “courage is contagious and hope can take on a life of its own." So, Andy Halliday, we thank you for your courage.