From stage to screen mostly intact

Movie review

May 09, 2000|By Mike Giuliano | Mike Giuliano,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Turning a one-man play into a one-man movie is a risky proposition. Will a powerful stage performance transfer to the screen? Should the film director open the piece up and show all the characters and streets only referred to in the stage monologue?

In the spirit of the film version of Spalding Gray's "Swimming to Cambodia," which retained the stage-bound monologue format, the film version of David Drake's 1992 off-Broadway play "The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me" basically shoots it straight.

Of course, that's just about the only thing straight in Drake's play. Performed live last year at Baltimore's Theatre Project, where the film also was shot, "Larry Kramer" deftly interweaves autobiography and the recent history of the gay rights movement. It charts how Drake went from a Harford County childhood to his present life in New York as an actor, playwright and activist. Crucial in this personal evolution was the impact he felt on first seeing Kramer's AIDS-themed 1985 play "The Normal Heart."

Although the transition to the screen could be a bit smoother, the play itself comes across with its integrity -- and virtually every line -- intact.

An engaging performer, Drake is also loved by the camera eye. Mostly clad in blue jeans and a blindingly white T-shirt, except for the scenes where he's mostly unclad, Drake has a fresh-faced directness as a storyteller.

This is extremely funny and moving when he returns to his childhood and says in a little kid's voice that he likes the Village People but can't quite explain why he finds that musical group's construction worker and policeman so appealing.

The monologue goes on to describe how Broadway musicals, moving to New York and immersing himself in the gay subculture of gyms, bars and street demonstrations made Drake the monologue-spouting man before us. "Monologue" is a somewhat misleading term, however, because Drake is adept at slipping into other voices, or body types, as the case may be. He brings gay life to life.

This was often compelling on stage but works less well on screen. The big gestures and exclamatory phrasing Drake deployed in his stage performance sometimes seem too shrill in the more intimate medium of film. This film is like a text punctuated with too many exclamation points.

Drake's in-your-face performance is brought even nearer thanks to director Tim Kirkman's extremely mobile camera work, which circles its subject, pulls up for extreme close-ups and dances around the nearly bare set with all the abandon of somebody out for a night at the disco. Technically, there are some modestly dazzling camera moves and sharp edits that bring the play's seven vignettes alive.

`The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me'

Starring David Drake

Directed by Tim Kirkman

Released by FilmNext

Not rated (sexual references)

Running time 80 minutes

Sun score * * *

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