Uprooted Theatre’s “Pink Champagne” by Neil Haven deals with the explosive issue of homosexual intolerance through the prism of one family’s struggle to come to terms with one another.
Setting events into motion is high-school junior Joey’s coming out to his father, Gene. Gene reacts badly so Joey retreats to the home of Gene’s estranged father, Donald. This creates major contention because Gene is embarrassed by Donald’s gayness, and Donald passive-aggressively fuels Gene’s humiliation by donating to gay causes in his name. Adding their voices to the din is Donald’s love-starved husband Patrick and Gene’s neglected wife Corrine. It’s a family dynamic worthy of its own day-time talk show segment.
The dysfunctional drama is buoyed by the strength of the acting. The characters mostly bicker with one another until they’re too tired to continue, yet the performances really stick. John Kishline’s Donald is senior alpha dog – confident as a financially secure millionaire, dignified as a family patriarch, and self-assured in the knowledge that he has played his part well in being the best father he can be. T. Stacy Hicks serves up a sultry Patrick, seducing man and woman alike with the ease of a born performer. John Maclay pulls the tough assignment as Gene, gingerly navigating the character to a middle ground somewhere between too angry and intolerant to be sympathetic, and so pliant and contrite as to be pathetic. Marti Gobel’s inherent likability shines through Corrine despite her character’s opportunism. And Shorewood high schooler Ari Shapiro exhibits his full-fledged acting ability amidst the veteran thespians as Joey, manipulating arguments and hurling invective with impressive teenage angst.
Given the volatility of the social issues touched upon by “Pink Champagne”, its brushing off of substantial topics, often laughingly with a witty one-liner, is disappointing. There’s a trite crack that Joey must indeed be gay because he recognizes a show tune. Donald’s response to Joey receiving a black eye that “he’s gay, he’s going to get jumped on now and then” is too absurdly crass for inclusion outside of a sophomoric comedy. The play is riddled with missed opportunities to explore the characters’ sense of their predicament, never offering the audience the chance to see the world through their eyes. Of roads not taken, the choice not to delve into Joey’s perspective as tumult swirls around him leaves the plot feeling rudderless. The result is an entertaining albeit unsatisfying ride.
Uprooted Theatre’s “Pink Champagne” runs from May 19th through June 5th at the Tenth Street Theatre. Admission is $15. More information and online tickets are available at the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center website here.