Mother Tongue at GAYFEST NYC 2010
Sometimes strange bedfellows make good company. In Mother Tongue, the new play by F. J. Hartland at GAYFEST NYC 2010 at the Dorothy Strelsin Theatre until May 23rd, those strange bedfellows are dead. They also form a rather unexpected love triangle with the very much alive and not exactly struggling New York City artist Matt (Jake Paque) who starts off the play putting his tongue to good use. So does his stand-up comedian mother Bertie (J. J. Van Name). Matt uses his to inspire his hook-up Cale (Kevin Spirtas) to count off multiplication tables and list elements from the Periodic Table. Bertie uses hers to take jabs at Matt’s father, who cheated on her and later died, leaving Matt the money to pursue painting in the Big Apple and Bertie the unresolved anger she mines for material at an open mic night in Seattle.
Bertie stands atop a staircase to the side of the set that is Matt’s studio with an almost-always-open sofa bed center stage. Matt periodically pops out from under a comforter to ask Cale what he is saying. Lights direct us from the sofa bed to Bertie to create a montage effect as Bertie, Cale and Matt trade lines. Then Bertie calls Matt from her cell after the show and insists upon speaking to her son’s new friend once she realizes that he is not alone. Cale obliges and pretends that the tryst that Bertie has interrupted is more than what is, that it is already what it instead becomes as the play unfolds.
Of course, the three soon collide. Bertie and Cale meet when Cale and Matt are in the middle of a fight; and there is the inevitable confrontation between son and mother whom Matt can only call Birdie because his mother embarrasses him so. But Matt’s relationship with his dead father and the dead character that inspires Cale to count when Matt has his mouth full drive Mother Tongue’s most profound revelations. At the play’s best moments, Matt demonstrates the vulnerability and courage it takes to make peace with a new lover’s past even when Cale cannot do the same with his own. Matt doing this while unduly immortalizing his father illustrates the kind of inconsistency that complicates our everyday lives, the kind that Mother Tongue needs more of, particularly at its too-tidy ending.
Actors Jake Paque and Kevin Spirtas (whom some may know from his 10-year stint as Dr. Craig Wesley on the daytime soap Days of Our Lives) smartly flesh out Matt and Cale beyond their bonesâ€”and not just because they bare some of their own. Paque’s eyes convey Matt’s desire to be loved by a man who is old enough to be his father with an aching tenderness not always in Matt’s lines. Paque completes Matt’s youthful idealism by delivering some of them with more gravitas than they deserve. Spirtas matches Paque by embracing a man that can go â€œfull montyâ€ onstage but can barely reveal how he feels with words. If J. J. Van Name’s Bertie comes across as the butt of her own jokes it is because Bertie’s closing epiphany comes as fast as her nevertheless funny one liners.
– Seth Clark Silberman
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