Jordan Harrison is an idea man. A "What would happen if..." kind of guy, and as such he is very, very good at pulling you into a story into which you had never intended to enter, because you had no idea it existed. In Maple and Vine, he pulled a couple out of Manhattan and moved them into a time warped community where everything was 1955. In Marjorie Prime, he created a world where memory persisted and loss was avoided. In Log Cabin, Harrison moves us back to a more hopeful time - 2012 - when sexual choice and fluidity were blossoming all over the world and love was defined by the beholder as well as the beheld. And hats off to him for diving feet first into the subjects that will dominate our collective begetting. They already are.
Chris (Phillip James Brannon) and Ezra (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) are a married couple, visiting their best friends Pam (Cindy Cheung) and Jules (Dolly Wells) - also married - at the ladies' Brooklyn apartment. Everyone is in their 30's. Everyone is professional. Everyone has enough money and a good life. They are like a TV show with benefits. Into this TV plus is introduced the idea of progeny. And why not?
Jules: They couldn’t get married, and then they could. Their families wouldn’t accept them, and then they would. They didn’t have any money, and then they did. There had to be something else to want. So, a baby.
When your life is secure don't you want to branch out and have someone to care about other than you and your significant other? Pam and Jules are on the way to making this happen. And it does in the flash of a few scenes. His name is Hartley. And Hartley is, well, unusual. With fully developed thought patterns as well as speech patterns with the right adult. This is one of the first "What-ifs."
Along the way another "what-if" emerges in the discussion, at Henry's 1-year birthday party, about a mutual friend, Henry (Ian Harvie). Henry is a trans male. He and Ezra were friends in high school when Henry was Helen, and Ezra is having trouble tripping over pronouns and being ever so slightly judgmental. Both couples are. It is all well and good for people to live out their lives, but when they get proprietary about their new sexual identity - well now partner that there is going a little too far. That there is personal. The four decide they should have Henry and his girlfriend Myna (Talene Monahon) over for dinner. Yes indeedy. Even though the foursome is not certain that Henry's choice is going to stick. Like the straight world did to them, hoping that being gay was something temporary, these four are visiting the same judgment on Henry.
When baby Hartley turns 2, enough time seems to have passed that the invite actually happens. Which turns out to be a horror show of considerable size. The judgement slides into the conversation and ignites all the frustration that has been simmering. This is all new to us, as we were not in on the beginnings of the dissatisfaction. We do our best to catch up as insults are flung around like water balloons. The party ends with Henry, Myna and Chris each storming out for a variety of reasons. A bad time is had by all.
So aren't we surprised when next we find Ezra and Chris in a confab with Henry? They would like to have a baby and wonder would Henry be willing to carry it - in spite of the fact that it would flush all his hormonal therapy down the tubes. Yes he would lose his facial hair. And are we not surprised again when we see a pregnant Henry sporting a full beard. Yes. Yes we are. And mostly that is because Henry's decision to have the baby, like nearly all of the important decisions in this play are made off stage. Why is everyone pissed off at everyone? Why is having a baby a problem for Ezra and Chris? Is it money? Where does their money come from? What the heck does Jules do for a living anyway? Is she stay at home? What is her day like? Why does Henry decide to have that baby? How are the three men going to live together? Oiy.
The actors carry their water just fine. Jesse Tyler Ferguson is becoming more of a performer and less of an actor as time goes by. Granted, he is entertaining and confident onstage, but you never forget who he is. Phillip James Brannon is always a joy to watch as he has an inner life that is ticking every moment he is onstage. Cindy Cheung was a welcome surprise as the quiet and supportive Pam, and when she finally lets loose in her measured way, she guides the story onto a new path. Pam MacKinnon's direction (with the aid of an extraordinary set by Allen Moyer) keeps the boat afloat with a seamless flow from one scene to another. The transitions look easy, so you know they were choreographed to the nth degree. A great deal of work went into this production.
In Mr. Harrison's zeal to cover a great deal of territory, he covers a great deal of territory in a land to which much attention has not been paid. Like I said - hats off to that. But at no time does he take a deep dive and let one of these complicated themes take the wheel. As a result, the story drifts without landing. These actors have no sticking place, and the tale remains vague in its direction. In the end, it is left to the two toddlers to explain to them and to us what the writer's intentions are. This is a less than satisfying conclusion.
And not for nothin' but why the title? Is it in reference to Log Cabin Republicans? No idea.
(Photo by Joan Marcus)
What the popular press says...
"Works like Charm and Bootycandy are taking apart the L.G.B.T. rainbow to examine its constituent parts and to ask if they really fit together in the first place. Certainly that’s where Jordan Harrison tries to situate Log Cabin, a hot-button gay-versus-trans comedy that opened on Monday at Playwrights Horizons. Looking at what happens when the rainbow turns on itself, it’s marginally less homogeneous than the traditional gay play. Unfortunately, it’s also less coherent."
Jesse Green for New York Times
"The very talented cast almost makes us believe we’re watching fully developed characters and not mouthpieces for the playwright’s polemic. A late-in-the-play sermon about creating your own concept of marriage is sticky sweet."
Robert Hofler for The Wrap
"The undercooked Log Cabin, by contrast, is schematic, lifeless and artificial in its examination of self-absorbed characters whose complacency is challenged by shifting attitudes."
David Rooney for Hollywood Reporter
"Just when you thought it was safe to go to the theater again without suffering through plays about straight couples caught up in parenting issues of interest to no one but themselves, along come liberated gay couples to rehash the old dilemmas in playwright Jordan Harrison’s “Log Cabin,” now playing at Off Broadway’s Playwrights Horizons."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...