COSTA MESA — David Stevens' "The Sum of Us," now playing at the Theatre District, is a fascinating look into the lives of some very interesting people. Though set in Footscray, an industrial suburb of Melbourne, Australia, it could happen anywhere, and maybe it has.
Harry Mitchell (Steve McCammon) is a single parent with a grown son who still lives with him. The son, Jeff (Jay Michael Fraley), is gay and lonely. Harry is lonely, too, since his wife died. Suddenly, Jeff meets Mr. Right in a local pub, a park gardener named Greg (John Sayre), and Harry, through a singles agency, meets a woman named Joyce (Alice Ensor).
Nothing changes. Greg is sort of put off by Harry's out-and-out acceptance of Jeff's lifestyle--and his intrusions into the gay couple's first romantic moments--and quietly disappears. And when Joyce finally learns that Harry's son is gay, her violent homophobia destroys that relationship. Stevens has created a double-edged sword, with Harry's intrusions destroying Jeff's chances for happiness, and Jeff's homosexuality destroying Harry's. Yet they must continue to co-exist as a family. The father-son relationship is all they have.
First-time director John Bowerman understands what's going on in these hearts. He has staged the play interestingly, with naturalness and a sense that people actually live in this cozy little working-man's flat.
He has also cast it impeccably. One slight improvement could have raised the emotional stakes to a greater urgency. Harry's second-act monologue about his hidden disappointment in Jeff's sexual identity and other hints throughout the play suggest the father has bent over backward to accept his son, without accepting him at all. But little of this inner turmoil shows through Harry's facade.
Otherwise, McCammon's performance is valid and sure, while Fraley's Jeff gives the staging its delicately hued lights and shadows. Fraley is so real even at ordinary moments that a poignant aura seems to follow him about.
Sayre's Greg is almost as touching, as lonely as Jeff, but living in a closet he is terrified of opening, until his father sees him with friends and throws him out of their home. Just as terrified of opening the door to her own fears, Joyce is played with refreshing buoyancy by Ensor, up to the moment when her shock turns her into a cowering victim of her own blindness.
All the performances, and Bowerman's fine direction, clearly deliver the playwright's message about the power of ignorance to keep people apart.
* "The Sum of Us," Theatre District, 2930 Bristol St., C-106, Costa Mesa. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends Aug. 9. $15-$20. (714) 435-4043. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.
Jay Michael Fraley: Jeff
Steve McCammon: Harry Mitchell
John Sayre: Greg
Alice Ensor: Joyce
A Theatre District production of David Stevens' drama. Directed by John Bowerman. Assistant director: Suzanne Alexander. Scenic design: Cabeza de Borghese Ltd. Lighting design: Joe Koonce. Costume design: Joan Lescot. Stage manager: Bruce Beckman.