Virtual Theatre Review: ‘warplay’ at Out Front Theatre

Photos by Diane Haymes

I was all set to see Out Front Theatre’s “warplay” the other day, but the live production has been canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak in Atlanta.

However, the oldest bromide in show business is “The show must go on;” and in that spirit the company has filmed the production, and you can buy tickets through March 29 and own the play (in perpetuity, I think). Just go to their website listed below, and you can support Atlanta’s only LGBTQIA+ theatre. I did, and I’m very glad.

Written by JC Lee and directed by Justin Kalin, “warplay” was first produced in 2017 at the New Conservatory Theatre Center in San Francisco.

Of course you’ve heard of Achilles, the greatest of the ancient Greek warriors, a legend in history and mythology, described in Homer’s “Iliad” thousands of years ago. But have you also heard of Patroclus, Achilles’ much loved friend and lover, posits playwright Lee? The precise nature of their relationship has been debated for eons.

In Brad Pitt’s 2004 film “Troy,” Patroclus is portrayed as Achilles’ (Mr. Pitt) “cousin and protégé,” an arrangement I found insipid and unbelievable. But Hollywood was not ready to have its biggest star play a gay hero — even though Achilles is stricken with grief and rage upon Patroclus’ death.

Out Front has no such ambiguity in its updated reimagining of the ancient story: the hunky Gregory Piccirilli plays A, and the attractive Andy Stanesic plays P; they are the modern version, on a battlefield somewhere, of “the oldest documented same-sex couple in Western literature,” says Director Kalin, quoted in “Peach” magazine.

He goes on: “The presence of love between two men is complicated by the performance of masculinity…what does it mean to be a man?…we see how the pillars of maleness rob men of intimacy…” We know about toxic masculinity; we see a touch in “warplay,” but we also see touching affection. A flat out tells P, despite their squabbles and disagreements: “I love you.”

It’s upon that declaration that “warplay” is based and carries us easily along its 70-minute story. The playwright may be reaching for too many themes, but when he returns to that central truth, the play works, aided by quite lovely performances by Mr. Piccirilli (especially) and Mr. Stanesic.

And always the ghost of Achilles and his story lends a certain sympathetic magic to the proceedings: These guys really existed. “I’d like us to be friends,” says A to P.

When the play focuses on their relationship (and this is also a tale of first love), “warplay” can be fascinating and almost hypnotic. For example, when they squabble and argue, P can be quite fierce, because he feels “I don’t register as anything except as your digression.” He knows A is the peerless warrior — a legend right in front of him. However, P is spunky and feisty.

But then A becomes quite tender and gently reminds P: “We swore we’d stick together.” And when P is in danger, A reveals to us the depth and power of his feelings for P. Even though Mr. Stanesic’s P is a bit strident at the beginning, I’m very impressed with both actors. They have a real chemistry, and we must also thank Director Kalin for his detailed, subtle work.

The video production, which you can purchase for online viewing as mentioned above, is by Saturnblu Productions. Danyale Taylor’s scenic design is stark, poetic, and striking. Lighting design is by Lindsey Sharpless. That Mandy Mitchell serves as the “intimacy director” leads one to believe that there could be nudity, but there is none. But there is certainly intimacy.

As good as much of it is, there is a feeling that Lee’s play is still a work in progress; but when “warplay” is focused on A and P and their legendary love, we are captives of this timeless story.

To purchase and download the play, visit outfronttheatre.com.

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