I was too young at the time of the AIDS epidemic to understand what was happening. To me, it seems I’ve always lived in a world where HIV and AIDS were a fact of life. Troy Civic Theatre’s Chasing Charles brings us one of the many stories of that time and makes sure at least one of the lost will not be forgotten.
Based on a true story and written by local theater dynamo JJ Buechner (who also plays Edward here), the play follows Charles Elsen (Luke Meunier), a Schenectady native who moved to Manhattan and started his own wig design/makeup artistry company for operas and musicals, working with his friend Dennis (Adrian Appleman). Charles lives a very sexual lifestyle as a gay man in the late ‘70s-early ‘80s in New York City, and when the AIDS epidemic hits the nation, Charles, his friends and family are on the front lines of the battle.
There is a lot of heart in this production. There are shows where you can see that and shows where you can’t; sometimes it seems the actors are just going through the motions and sometimes the passion is absolutely palpable. This is one of the latter – something I love to see more than I can express. If we don’t love what we’re doing, why do it?
Meunier has charm as Charles, but is, at times, a bit over the top; his quieter scenes (when he is ill, or when talking with Dennis about his life) are more effective. As for Dennis, Appleman is our Everyman here – loyal to a fault to his best friend, yearning for something more in his own life, heartbreaking and comedic in turns. His work is quite good and I look forward to seeing more of him on area stages. Buechner’s bio says he’s played the character of Dennis twice over the years, but after seeing him as Edward, I can’t imagine him as anything but; he’s the comic relief, but also has a very serious turn a little over halfway through and he had the audience in the palm of his hand. Yes, he wrote the play; yes, he knows the characters … but he’s also a strong actor with a magnetic stage presence. Joanne Macri, as Angela, Charles’s mother, is pure steel; her character is written so well and her acting is so compelling that even when you want to hate her, you can’t.
The main problem with the production was technical; lighting issues caused the beginning and ending of scenes to be muddled, a phone rang when it shouldn’t, the music was so loud at one point we couldn’t hear the actors and we weren’t sure when intermission started or the show ended. This was opening night, however, and these things do tend to rectify themselves after a show or two.
You can’t help but feel the emotion here, not only from the actors, but from the story itself; it’s not a flawless production, but it’s an important one, on many levels.
“Chasing Charles”, Troy Civic Theatre, The Arts Center of the Capital Region, 265 River Street, Troy; through April 7; $20-$18; Run time: 1 hour and 55 minutes with a 15-minute intermission; 518-217-8282