The Bear Suit of Happiness at the New Colony | Theater review

The New Colony’s new play about a group of closeted gay soldiers putting on a show is set during World War II but feels adrift in time and place.

Photograph: Anne Petersen
Ryan Jarosch and Patriac Coakley in The Bear Suit of Happiness at the New Colony

Evan Linder’s WWII drama centers on a small brotherhood of closeted American soldiers assigned to a fitting yet precarious task: Boost soldier morale with a USO-style variety show. The requisites: “Keep it simple. Needs music. They like drag.” Effeminate camp-queen-in-uniform Norman (Ryan Jarosch) and his more low-key partner Frank (Andrew Hobgood) freely adapt an approved comedy script about a sexy nurse for their own purposes. Newbie Woody (Patriac Coakley) wants to impart the existential hopelessness of the soldiers’ situation; literal straight man and bunkmate Tom (Michael Peters) just wants to sing.

That Tom ultimately and unsurprisingly turns on one of his pals in a surge of gay panic is a climactic development inexplicably brushed off with a few niceties in Sean Kelly’s indecisive production. Linder and company look to history for inspiration for this devised new work, but the finished product plays out as both pure fiction and a conservative’s worst-case scenario, with a general sense that our quartet’s vague stakes are a distraction from the real-world bloodshed one mission away.

More context would be conveyed if Linder showed any interest in the world outside of the soldiers’ rehearsal space. On a tiny wooden platform—a design choice that diminishes Dank Haus’s expansive playing area to a visually bland proscenium—we never get a glimpse of the era or social climate necessary to feel the dissonance between the soldiers and the world they try to inhabit. What Linder has difficulty articulating in dialogue, though, Coakley’s final and brief meta-performance—a tender, mesmerizing lip synch—imparts without saying a word.

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