Reviewed by Marc Wheeler
“One marshmallow or two?”
This is the question posed by gay man Arthur to his now-deceased lover’s ex-wife Marion as his offer of hot cocoa ironically attempts to cool off a heated and necessary exchange over property rights and loss in this 1987 AIDS-era piece by Harvey Fierstein. On Tidy Endings, the third act of the Safe Sex trilogy, harkens back to a time not-so-long-ago before marriage equality was a reality and a three-letter virus decimated countless lives in the most treacherous of ways. Now being staged as a stand-alone piece at The Hollywood Fringe Festival, this lesser-known work by Fierstein gives us a glimpse of the realities all-too-often faced by those left behind to AIDS.
While the subject matter deserves remembering (or learning), this slightly uneven production under the direction of Sara Wagner both touches the heart and leaves one imagining a more solid execution. The two leads — Michael Mullen as heartbroken and lonesome gay man Arthur, and Kimberly Patterson as nostalgic and lovelorn ex-wife Marion — both have their moments to shine. Mullen excels in his ability to bring humor to darkness yet still allow a simmering anger and grief to stew in uncomfortable awkwardness. Patterson brings a wounded heart that she touchingly spills out in her attempt to stake her claim to the man that got away. At the same time, the two actors appear a bit disconnected at points as they attempt to guide their way through the murky waters of legal documents, uncovered truths and the roles, if any, they desire to have in each other’s lives. To be fair, 60 minutes is a bit unrealistic amount of time to reach that coveted tidy ending. A stronger directorial vision, however, could have connected the often beautiful and affecting dots and eliminated disjointed transitions in tone and motivations.
In supporting roles, Kristin Towers-Rowles gives a commanding performance as Marion’s no-nonsense lawyer June and Makayla Rowles brings a gender-reversal (the part was originally written for a boy) sweetness as Marion’s now-fatherless child Jenny.
Costumes by Michael Mullen are period appropriate and props and set design by Kimberly Patterson and Michael Mullen are simple and effective. Sound design by Jason Duplissea needs some fine-tuning.
Producers are Michael Mullen and Kimberly Patterson.
AIDS-era stories have been told more effectively, but this is a rare opportunity to see a smaller and poignant work from the man who penned books for Torch Song Trilogy, La Cage aux Folles and Kinky Boots to remind us of our history.