Decades Apart: Reflections of Three Gay Men June 10-11, 8 p.m.; June 12, 3 p.m.; $20. Onyx Theatre, 702-732-7225.
Don’t kill the messenger. It’s a plea to disassociate what’s being said from who’s saying it. In the case of Decades Apart: Reflections of Three Gay Men from the Ryan Repertory Co., now playing at the Onyx, we need a new phrase, something that can parse between what the message is and how it’s being said. Because while the central theme behind Decades Apart—a cry against the bigotry and intolerance imposed upon the LGBTQ community—is certainly worthy, this production is, unfortunately, a milquetoast exploration of gay identity that never evokes the strong feelings its creators clearly feel for the cause.
Written and performed by Rick Pulos, Decades Apart tracks the lives of three gay men in three very different eras: the swinging ’70s, the “Mo(u)rning in America” ’80s, and the alt ’90s. Each of the characters is meant to be an archetypal gay figure of the times, but the writing blanches any specificity from the roles until we’re left only with bland clichés. They’re littered with tired jokes that serve as simulacrums of humor (magazines at a doctor’s office are old!), mixed metaphors abound (love is a hurricane; no, it’s a flood; no, it’s actually like a drug), and everything gets repeated ad nauseam. Pulos imbues his characters with a likable earnestness, but the roles are practically indistinguishable: Remove a wig or a double-breasted suit coat and each could be another.
All of that’s a shame, because technically, the show gets a lot right. The lighting design is crisp, and the set has a variety of playing areas. Director Barbara Parisi uses it all well, creating separate spaces, and Pulos hits his marks and finds his light. Projection interludes are well-selected, too, but they also go on too long; transitions between characters shouldn’t require 30 seconds.
The show ends with a montage of video clips involving gay issues of the day: beatings that continue in NYC, opposition to and confirmation of gay marriage, the North Carolina’s bathroom bill controversy—all presented without explanation. The cause remains righteous, but Decades Apart felt like a manipulation of sentiment, rather than an actual exploration of character, setting or conflict.