Drake deserves embrace

Review: Seven years after it created a stir off-Broadway, David Drake's coming-of-age as a gay man drama debuts in Baltimore.

May 14, 1999|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

It's taken a long time, but David Drake is home at last.

Seven years ago, Drake's one-man show, "The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me," became an off-Broadway sensation. He went on to perform this sensitive and hard-hitting, touching and explosive show in cities ranging from Los Angeles to London, from San Francisco to Sydney, Australia.

The irony is that the semi-autobiographical show is set, in part, in Maryland, where Drake grew up. He even tried some of the material out here years ago. Drake has wanted to bring his show home for some time, and now he finally has.

An account of Drake's coming of age as a gay man, "The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me" is making its Baltimore debut at the Theatre Project, where it is being filmed before a live audience for release as an independent feature.

The film will, in all likelihood, become a cult hit. But it also means this may be one of the last chances to see Drake performing this piece live.

Baltimore theater buffs who remember Drake from his performances in musicals at Baltimore's community and dinner theaters in the early 1980s will see a more serious-minded side of the actor here. He still knows how to enter- tain an audience and make it laugh, but the mature Drake can also make it share his fears, sadness, and, in the end, his pride and hope.

The 90-minute piece involves seven vignettes, which range widely in tone, but are all characterized by a writing style that is at once poetic and conversational, confessional and public. Drake's performance, directed by Chuck Brown, exhibits a similar wide range.

In one scene, Drake is the wonder-filled 6-year-old who discovers the power of theater at a local production of "West Side Story." In another he is the angry adult who works out at the gym not only to keep toned and fit, but also to be strong enough to defend himself against gay bashers.

Nor does Drake pull any punches when it comes to the gay bar scene, which he depicts in a vignette punctuated with explicitly worded personal ads. (Be advised -- this is material for mature audiences.)

The show's title, "The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me," refers to the author of the groundbreaking 1985 AIDS-awareness drama, "The Normal Heart," which raised Drake's social and political consciousness. Kramer's strident play has become a piece of history, as indeed have some of the gay rights and AIDS activism movements described in Drake's play. This is important history, and while some of Drake's references may seem less immediate than in 1992, the show as a whole does not feel dated. It is, after all, a chronicle.

The only significant rewriting Drake has done comes in the final vignette, which is set in the future. And that serves as a reminder that the cause of equal rights is a continuing struggle.

Landing "The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me" is a coup for the Theatre Project. With its gritty, urban, glass-and-black-brick set, designed by Anna Louizos, the show looks great in this gritty, urban, experimental theater, and Tim Hunter's lighting is the most sophisticated the Theatre Project has ever seen. Best of all, the Theatre Project is an intimate enough space for the performer and the theatergoer to make eye contact.

David Drake has come home to tell us his story. Listen up, Baltimore.

`The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me'

Where: Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.

When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, through May 22.

(Call for information about the subsequent week of by-invitation filmed performances.)

Tickets: $15

Call: 410-752-8558

Pub Date: 5/14/99

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