Jon Maran’s play The Temperamentals, about the formation of the United States’ first gay rights organization, the Mattachine Society, was one of my favorite gay-themed plays of the last few years. So I was excited to hear about his new play A Strange and Separate People which deals with homosexuality among 21st Century Orthodox Jews on the Upper West Side. It doesn’t have the epic breadth and power of The Temperamentals, but is, nonetheless, an engrossing play on an intriguing subject.
Dr. Stuart Weinstein, a newly Orthodox gay doctor, befriends Phyllis, a housewife with a side business as a caterer. As he gets to know Phyllis and her husband Jay – a psychiatrist who sometimes performs reparative therapy on his gay clients – things get increasingly complicated. Things all three of these intelligent people love – religion, learning and each other – come into ferocious conflict.
Once again Marans deals with very compelling ideas, and has created well spoken characters with a sense of humor that comes to their aid even in their most wrought moments. Director Jeff Calhoun has done a terrific job creating fluid and expressive staging, but hasn’t quite modulated the plays strong emotions and intense arguments to the acoustics of the tiny Theatre Row Studio. It’s not as though the actors are shouting throughout the entire production, but they do it often enough to be a bit grating.
What I most appreciate, though, is Maran’s willingness to look so unsparingly at the need for change in communities that are having a hard time adjusting to homosexuality, or even the modern world in general. I didn’t love A Strange and Separate People with the same intensity that I loved The Temperamentals, but I like it well enough, and find it to be a truly thoughtful play that deserves attention.
For tickets, click here.
To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.