The Closet, by Douglas Carter Beane (inspired by French playwright/screenwriter Francis Veber’s work Le Placard) is a perplexing beast. Billed as a farce, it is quite funny; however, its humor seems dated at times, bordering on offensive, and although there is laughter, one has to wonder at what cost it comes.
Martin O’Reilly (Matthew Broderick) is a downtrodden, depressed employee of a religious supply warehouse; he and his wife have divorced, his son Jack (Ben Ahlers) thinks he’s boring and his house is too large and expensive. His coworkers have similar issues; Patricia (Jessica Hecht) has a crush on him but is too afraid to say anything; Brenda (Ann Harada) is a gossip who hates her job and Roland (Will Cobbs) runs the place but is under his mother’s – the owner’s – thumb. Enter Ronnie Wilde (Brooks Ashmanskas): an out and proud gay man, he answers Martin’s ad for a roommate and overhears that Martin’s going to be fired. He decides to meddle and hints that he and Martin are in a relationship – suddenly firing Martin would be discrimination and Martin becomes much more interesting to everyone in his life. But can he – and should he – keep up the façade?
Moyer’s set design is glorious; he’s created a two-story down-on-its-luck religious supply warehouse down to the very last chalice and chasuble. Jessica Pabst’s costume design is really allowed to shine in Act II, and Japhy Weideman’s lighting design is so natural – the light at the windows is gorgeous.
Mark Brokaw’s direction can’t be faulted; he’s got a talented, funny cast, and they’re a strong team. Broderick is delightful; at times, perhaps, a bit too self-aware (and unable to hide off-script smiles from some of his co-stars’ antics) but he’s a joy to watch onstage nonetheless. Ashmanskas gets the juicy role; at first he seems too much of a caricature, but Ronnie has bite, well-aware of how he presents to the world and the way the world sees gay men (as the “wonder homo,” he says, like the “magical Negro,” able to swoop in and fix things, but in a fabulous way.) It’s one of the best bits in the show … mainly because it’s the only true and thought-provoking moment. Hecht has excellent comedic timing as Patricia and true chemistry with Broderick; Harada’s Broadway musical references (and drop-of-the-hat lines sung with bravado) had the audience in stitches.
Although I realize this is a farce, and it attempted to redeem itself with a “lesson” at the end, it’s 2018; is a straight man pretending to be gay really humorous, considering gay men still have to pretend to be straight in order to avoid repercussions? Is it appropriate to laugh at a man making goofy faces and mincing around on his toes because that’s … I guess what we’re assuming all gay men look like? There are some genuine laughs, then there are the rest: tinged with the world we live in and the question of whether it was a good idea now (or ever) to make this particular topic a punchline
“The Closet”; Williamstown Theatre Festival, 1000 Main St., Williamstown, MA; through July 14; $75; Run time: 2 hours and 15 minutes with a 15-minute intermission; 413-458-3253; http://wtfestival.org/