Great gay improvisers 

‘Some Men’
Phoenix Theatre
Through July 19

Some Men by Terrence McNally jumps back and forth through time to create a broad overview of gay male history in the 20th and 21st centuries. There is a subtle through line, but don’t break your brain trying to follow it — it’s neat, but unnecessary to enjoy the show.

Director Bryan Fonseca coaxes the ensemble cast — J. Blakemore, Matt Goodrich, Gregory Howard, Jon Lindley, Ricardo Melendez, Kurt Owens, Dave Ruark and Bill Simmons — through a presentation that is personal more than historical. Instead of showing the actual Stonewall riots — or exploring this event’s significance — the scene settles into a gay bar across the street, where a group of show queens are clustered around a piano man, mourning the death of Judy Garland. Not that the show isn’t reflective: A 1998 “elder queen” interview by two college students questions the habit of romanticizing the past that their interviewees, self-identified “great gay improvisers,” are accused of doing. The show runs the gamut from 1920s closeted oppression to “queer” studies available at colleges today, with expected side trips about hustlers, bath houses, chat rooms and AIDS.

Each member of the cast takes on multiple roles in 14 segments and shows an aptitude for versatility. Highlights include 1971, when Greenwell eloquently goes off on Simmons: Simmons’ character wants to leave his wife for another man, but Greenwell’s character, who is also a closeted gay married man, tells him he’s giving up a good life. And mention has to be made of Owens’ foul-mouthed drag queen performance of “Over the Rainbow” in 1969, during the Stonewall riots.

A few spots are weak, but the ensemble grasps the, ahem, rainbow of emotions the play displays. And there are a lot of them, with the show clocking in at almost two and a half hours. James Gross’ set design is a striking white backdrop of columns and fabric. It works well with Laura Glover’s lighting and Caroline Stine’s costuming (loved the pegged pants for the 1980s).

Some Men continues at the Phoenix Theatre through July 19. Tickets are $25, $15 for those under age 25 (the show is not recommended for those under 18, and does contain nudity). For reservations, call the Phoenix, 749 N. Park Ave., at 317-635-PLAY.

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