Lavender Love at Macha Theatre in West Hollywood

Odalys Nanin’s new one act play Lavender Love isn’t trying to raise any brows or even push the gay agenda any further than a campy journey to the excessiveness of the 1920s Hollywood lifestyle.

Nanin has taken Susan Sontag’s original definition of camp, laying out the artifice, frivolity, and naïve middle-class pretentiousness and reducing it to mere triviality without much of a commentary. It’s a missed opportunity for the gay community to gain a bit more insight into its own history, which has many holes yet to be filled.

By exploring gay relationships in the context of a previous era when it was necessary to conceal one’s homosexuality by taking up these “lavender marriages,” the play promises an exploration into a practice still perpetuated in Hollywood by some. However, arguing the politics of it is irrelevant in light of the play presented here.

It is New Year’s Eve 2011 and Alas Nin (Lidia Ryan) has stolen some Chicken McNuggets from the McDonald’s on the corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights. A security guard (O’Neil Cespedes) takes pity on her: she has no money and has just broken up with her girlfriend Evie Raven (Michelle Bernard).

The guard reveals an underground hiding place where she can take refuge from the cops. In reality, it is a trap door located in the long forgotten location of the Garden of Allah. Reluctantly, Alas goes into hiding and finds herself transported back to the 1920s where she comes face to face with silent film stars Alla Nazimova (Nanin) and Rudolph Valentino (Kristian Steel).

In her displaced daze, she is offered a starring role in Nazmova’s next film, much to her protégé and lover, Natasha’s (Stephanie Ann Saunders) dismay. Still, Alas misses her girlfriend back in 2011/2012. Her sole connection to her own time is her iPhone, which astonishingly still works. She places a call to Evie, a sexy Puerto Rican woman with a bad accent and a case of perpetual flatulence (the reason for the break-up.) In the end, the Mayan calendar, a tsunami, earthquakes, and the Island of California all coalesce around an implausible happy ending.

Beyond this précis, the less said about plot and story the better. What we’re left with is more questions about the development of this script than a discussion about the issues that this play brings up. Lavender love/marriage is only touched on in name only, but never explored. The real-life historical characters read like caricatures. Any research done to develop them feels like it was done by cursory glance at the mini-bios on IMDB.

There is just enough flash of breast, a scantily clad Valentino, and Paul Ivano (Drew Hinckley) in a thong to satisfy what seems to be the core audience at which this play aims. The dramatic conflict is as thin as the fart joke in the play. One has to wonder, watching this play, if there’s more to lesbian or gay love than just sex; that seems to be what drive these characters. Where is the great passion of these artists that gave them the capacity to love greatly – was it really all just sex? Doubtful.

It is almost pointless to talk about performances given the nature of the play. Ryan stumbles around the stage in a daze of confusion that isn’t dictated by her character’s own confusion. The same can be said for most of the cast as well, though Nanin seems to have a clear idea of Nazimova’s arc, after all, she wrote the play.

Unfortunately, she neglected to help the rest of the cast discover theirs. The breakout performance, however, belongs to Saunders. Even with the minimal lines she’s given, she makes her character as focused as possible, providing actual comedy from her performance rather than from the one liners that consistently fall flat throughout the play.

Coincidentally, Woody Allen’s new romantic comedy which opens in Los Angeles and New York this weekend, Midnight in Paris, explores the same concept and themes as this play, even visiting the same time period to explain the nature of flawed relationships romanticized by nostalgic and selective remembrances of Golden Ages past.

In the end, though, Nanin is not interested in mixing bawdy comedy and introspection about gay sex at the cusp of the second decade of the new millennium, though it can be done. Instead, a bad taste lingers in the palate as one walks out of the theatre, which leads out into the heart of West Hollywood.

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About Obed Medina
Obed received his BA in Creative Writing from the University of California at Riverside. He has freelanced and volunteered at various theatre companies in Los Angeles since 2002. He launched his own workshop theatre company in 2008 and has produced six original one-act plays and one Off-Broadway hit. Currently, he is living in Ashland, Oregon working on his writing and founder of Collaborative Theatre Project.

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