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THEATER REVIEW Alone, with Friends
by Jonathan Abarbanel, Windy City Times
2017-07-12

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Playwright: Lee Peters. At: Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston Ave. Tickets: 773-742-5420; proptheater@gmail.com; $20. Runs through: July 15

No matter where you are in the spectrum of sexual orientation, your first break-up almost always is difficult and painful, especially if initiated by your partner.

It's also commonplace and unexceptional—which is the big problem with Alone, with Friends. Steve, the 30-year-old gay Black man at the play's center, is perfectly likeable ( especially as played with a dazzling smile by handsome, husky Jonathan Rivera ) and perfectly ordinary as the audience sees him, and so are his friends. Steve is exceptional only in his apparent isolation from his own communities, having few Black or gay friends. His ex-boyfriend was white and his three seemingly best buds are not only white but straight. You never understand why because author Lee Peters provides relatively little information about how Steve came to be who he is. Writing this play may have been cathartic for Peters—the play seems autobiographical—but it isn't for the audience.

Part of the reason, and another problem, is that Steve is a reactive character. Plays are stronger when the hero makes active choices and decisions that drive the story, which Steve doesn't do. In a repeated structure of two-character scenes, he asks his acquaintances "Why are we friends?" The answers are not profound: we went to school together, we were frat brothers, we work together, we smoke pot together ( a lot of pot ), we have fun together, etc. All the responses imply that Steve and his acquaintances demand very little of each other. The one insight Steve achieves is the understanding that these things are not the basis for meaningful friendships.

Steve also seems aimless, perhaps because the emotional stuffing has been knocked out of him by the break-up, but that isn't well-delineated. His true friend, Black and straight Tonya ( sympathetic Nichole Green, with a classy hairdo ), asks "You're all of 30 years old, how can you not know what your goals are?" She tells Steve to define what he seeks in a lover/partner, but all he does is replay his superficial attraction to straight ( or straight-acting ) white guys. There just isn't much of a story unless Steve takes and completes a significant journey, or at least reveals some special personal quality beyond likeability.

Peters delineates his characters quickly and effectively, but only gay drag artist Phillip ( Christopher Sylvie in a lively, campy turn ) has enough personality to be interesting, although the other actors are perfectly capable in roles of limited dimension. Peters also turns out some funny lines. He might do very well when he finds something larger about which to write. For now, he writes like a young playwright—or, at least, a relatively inexperienced one. He'd be wise to consider Alone, with Friends part of a learning curve.


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