Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 2, 2018

REVIEW: Williamstown Theatre Festival, The Closet

Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown, MA
through July 14, 2018
by Jarice Hanson

The story’s action takes place in Scranton, at the Good Shepard Catholic Supply Warehouse. Allen Moyer’s set establishes the desperate local economy with religious iconography. When flamboyant Ronnie arrives to rent a part of the recently divorced Martin’s house, he suggests to other employees he and Martin are really gay lovers. This way, if Martin is fired, the company could be in for some bad press. Political correctness, stereotypes, and expectation of identity are teased out through mistaken impressions, past desires, and ultimately, honestly owning up to who you are.

The story, adapted by Douglas Carter Beane from the play and movie “Le Placard” (The Closet) written and directed by Francis Veber is billed as a satire, but Director Mark Brokaw has chosen to interpret the story more like a French farce.  There are some brilliant lines and character interaction, but there is a structural weakness that causes the story to veer away from social commentary and result in dialog that is campy and trite. This unevenness is evident in the way the characters decide to go to a Bacharach-David karaoke event, only to come to work the next day in full 1970s garb. Somehow the office has miraculously become decorated with lights, glitter, and psychedelia, for no other reason than to see actress Jessica Hecht in a mini-skirt.

Despite the weaknesses in the script, which I think are largely due to translating a French property to an American setting, the cast gives the show an energy that is entertaining, if not completely fulfilling. Matthew Broderick plays Martin as a milquetoast. He and Brooks Ashmanskas, with over-the-top gay exaggeration, are a well-matched odd couple. Ann Harada plays the token Asian in the company and Ben Ahlers as Martin’s son effectively finds his dad a hero, once he is believed to be gay. Will Cobbs as the boss’ son convincingly plays a repressed gay man, and Raymond Bokhour’s stage presence as a Bishop from the Vatican is impressive even though he has to deliver some of the weakest dialogue.

Brokaw is wise to direct Jessica Hecht as the submissive office worker holding a torch for Martin. She is most often (literally) center stage, and every one of Hecht’s moves has purpose and meaning. When other parts of the story become muddled, all you need to do is look at her and intentional meaning becomes clearer.