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THE GENTLEMAN CALLER Bittersweet Piano Lounge/Buffalo United Artists
By
Nov 3, 2022, 08:09
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Shea.s Performing Arts Center

Through November 12
THE GENTLEMAN CALLER Bittersweet Lounge/Buffalo United Artists

I learned back in high school how hard it is to craft a simple sentence and I’m still trying all these decades later.
Philip Dawkins’ “The Gentleman Caller” is about two guys who turned those simple sentences into classic plays, Tennessee Williams (Matthew Rittler) and William Inge (Jonathan Beckner).
They were of an age, made stars in the middle of World War II, with careers which suddenly turned bad.
They were also gay in a time when that was an issue.
Williams was, well, flamboyant, gay and unwilling to hide it and free with his views of the world and life.
Inge was closeted, very closeted.
They were friends, with Inge reviewing “The Glass Menagerie” in Chicago, Williams’ first big success.
Inge was there as the reviewer for a St. Louis paper, Williams’ hometown.
Philip Dawkins brings them front and center in his “The Gentleman Caller,” getting a production from Buffalo United Artists in a piano bar in the Hotel Lafayette.
Director James Cichocki makes it work.
And, the bar is available.
The play’s title reflects the initial title of “The Glass Menagerie.”
The show opens in Inge’s apartment in St. Louis, where the one-time college teacher is slated to interview Williams about the upcoming Chicago production.
Inge makes a strong pass at Williams and it’s rejected.
There is a steamy sense of a relationship which never quite materializes and: Who knows if it did in reality?
Williams makes no secret of his sexual orientation while Inge is still mentally in his hometown of Independence, Kansas.
Is “The Gentleman Caller” great theater?
Not really.
It is an interesting look at two great writers in that first hint of stardom, particularly Williams who loved the spotlight, even as it eventually torched him.
Inge saw Williams’ success with “Menagerie” as a sign he could do it also.
“Caller” focuses a little too much on the former Thomas Williams because it’s so easy, seeming to know exactly who he was, as he stood high in his pulpit, sounding off.
Inge was so anxious to hide his greatest secret that he’s lost in comparison with his friend, with his career suggesting there was a lot going on which doesn’t surface.
He may have been a more successful writer, perhaps across a larger slice of writing, with his success as a Hollywood screen writer before his suicide.
Cichocki has two very strong performances to work with, using the contrast of Rittler’s Snidely Whiplash performance with his mustache and Beckner’s emotionally cramped role as Inge.
The production reaches back to BUA’s very early days as a mobile theater, limited scenery, strong performances and often cramped space like the former Greyhound restaurant in what’s now the Alleyway Theatre.
A tiny stage flanked by the piano.It’s the music of words and dreams and lives.
How things can start slowly, climb to the stars and fall.
Williams and Inge will always be remembered for their best work, “A Streetcar Named Desire” or “Picnic” and Dawkins uses “The Gentleman Caller” to the start of their life and career paths.

A.W.

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