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Memorable 'Just Men' Gives Humorous, Compassionate Look at Gay Life

THEATER BEAT

April 05, 1996|PHILIP BRANDES

That most awkward, humiliating and irrevocable of moments--disclosing a homosexual orientation to a disapproving parent--receives funny and touching treatment at the hands of a superb cast in Gary Goldstein's compassionate, if sometimes idealized, new comedy "Just Men" at Hollywood's Stella Adler Theatre.

Beset by anxieties, Brian (Woody Brown) is immensely sympathetic as he prepares for a rare visit from his estranged father, Jack (Robert Mandan), a narrow-minded entrepreneur who'd never accept a gay son.

Brian's lover, Dan (Philip Earl Johnson), is one of those flawlessly sensitive and appropriate mates who sees into the heart of every situation and always says exactly the right thing. Naturally, he torpedoes Brian's lame attempts to pretend he's dating women, setting the stage for soul-baring confrontation between father and son. While the jokes are funny, it's in the heartfelt revelations and reconciliations that the show proves most memorable.

Considering the oft-leveled charges from the gay community about stereotyped portrayals of homosexuals, it's ironic that the straight father is such a cliche. Not only is he insensitive about his son's sexual orientation, but he's a bigoted, sexist braggart to boot--exaggerated for the sake of parody, perhaps, but he doesn't do justice to the complexity with which Goldstein has drawn his other characters. It's a credit to Mandan's skill that he's able to wring so much sympathy out of this caricature.

Special note should be given Alex Datcher as Brian's platonic friend Carmen, whom he spontaneously enlists into posing as his girlfriend. Smart, sexy and with impeccable comic timing, she turns a functional supporting role into a scene-stealer.

All in all, a show with comic appeal for anyone who's ever faced a difficult confession.

* "Just Men," Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends April 28. $20. (213) 466-1767. Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes.

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