Jeffrey, the current offering of the Rainbow Theatre Project by playwright Paul Rudnick, casts a humorously defiant eye towards the tragedy of the AIDS epidemic – as set in the New York City of the late 1980s and the 1990s. This play is a decided antidote to the moral darkness of such trenchant, emotionally-searing fare as The Normal Heart and Angels in America. With such heart-wrenching subject material to contend with, Playwright Rudnick dares to take the protagonist Jeffrey (a superb performance by Rinaldo Martinez) on a “Candide-like” journey through a parade of gay and straight characters – only to upend our anticipated responses with witty, acerbic repartee that envelops the minutiae of daily life.
In conjunction with Rudnick, Director Robert Mintz, strikes just the right delicate balance between the comic flourishes and the emotional horrors of HIV and AIDS that was so prevalent during this period. Having seen this play twice in the past, including in New York City, I have never seen a production of this play that balances the comic and the dramatic so adroitly.
Director Mintz, holds the ensemble of fine actors in the palm of his hand and he obviously has encouraged them to perform with crisp panache and understanding of each and every situation that we encounter in the play.
Members of the ensemble portray several differing, rotating roles with ease; sparkling brio and zest infuse very scene. Members of the ensemble who provide the very human backdrop of this play are Craig Houk, Emily Levey, Joshua Street, and Rick Westerkamp. All are superior with Mr. Westerkamp and Ms. Levey not missing a beat or nuance.
Randyn Fullard is fine as Darius and he is hysterically funny in several scenes. Matthew Pauli as Sterling is authoritative and bristling with dry, caustic humor throughout. Reginald Richard as Steven gives a multi-layered and complex interpretation of his character. Mr. Richard shone in his scene where he confesses his need for Jeffrey.
As said earlier, Rinaldo Martinez as Jeffrey is superb. Mr. Martinez is very rarely ever off the stage and he commands our attention with a natural charm and ease. Martinez plumbs the depths of his acting powers to show a man who is afraid of commitment but soon realizes that he must re-enter the world of life, self-acceptance, and joy. Martinez ably carries the central message of the play which is to embrace life in all its sorrows and vicissitudes.
The intimacy of the DC Arts Center aided immeasurably to the scope of this play and the playing space was very effectively utilized with minimal but very eye-catching set design by P J Carbonell. Lighting Design by James Morrison was extremely effective. Costume Design by Hannah Katherine Herold was imaginative and eye-catching. Production and Stage Manager Deborah Gur did a superior job of production and stage management.
Again, I must commend Director Robert Mintz for his crisp and comic yet emotionally resonant handling of this delicate material. Bravos to all involved with this extremely professional production.
Special commendations to Artistic Producing Director H. Lee Gable and Managing Director Michael Kelley for their continuing efforts to bring progressive, LGBTQ-themed theatre to the DC Metro artistic community.
Running Time: Two Hours including one-15-minute intermission.