Snoop MK – Snoop’s Theatre Thoughts, December 15, 2015
Ken Page is something of a living legend in St. Louis theatre. A veteran Broadway actor and singer, Page has become a fixture at the Muny and in the local theatre community, especially since moving back here to his hometown a few years ago. Page has now taken much of his own memory and life experience, as well as the stories of friends, and portrayed them in a new play, Sublime Intimacy, which is currently being presented in an impressive, ambitious staging by Max & Louie Productions.
Page, who also directed this play, explains in his directors’ note in the program that he was inspired by the stories of friends over the years who have relayed their stories of searching for, and occasionally achieving, a level of connection and intimacy that goes beyond the sexual into a more spiritual and emotional level. That’s the “sublime intimacy” of the play’s title, and Page’s stories revolve largely around dance. Using one dancer (Alfredo Solivan) to portray several different characters representing the “muse” or “ultimate love” or “unattainable ideal” of various figures in the play, Page relates the stories as narrated by his obvious fictionalized representation, Tim Pace (J. Samuel Davis). He takes us into the world of actors and artists in early 1970s St. Louis, 1970s and ’80s New York, Los Angeles in the 1940’s and 1990’s, along with a brief trip to Paris in 1980 and a return to St. Louis in the early 2000’s. He follows a group of gay men including the initially troubled young artist Gene Donovan (Michael Cassidy Flynn) and his intellectual friends Don Taylor (John Flack) and Bill Ross (Reginald Pierre), as well as other friends also played by Flack and Pierre at various moments in time. There’s also Katharine Reilly (Bethany Hart), a theatre teacher and actress who seems to find herself frequently falling in love with gay men, including her childhood friend Michael, represented by Solivan who also portrays Gene’s artistic “muse’–a Washington University dancer named Steve, as well as important figures in stories told by Don and later Tim.
Perhaps this play’s greatest strength is its extremely vivid sense of time and place. Page deftly transports his audience back to the St. Louis academic community in 1972, as well as to its other times and cities with vivid description and characterization. Especially powerful are the experiences of Gene, a young gay man learning to accept his sexuality, as well as Don, and older gay man remembering what it was like to be a Hollywood movie extra in the 1940’s with a strong attraction to a dancer from a movie filming at the same studio. Katharine’s stories, that interweave with those of Gene and Tim, are also memorable, as is Tim’s brief interaction with a dancer he meets in Paris. The dance sequences are beautifully danced by Solivan, who makes a believable representation of the various objects of affection, desire, and inspiration for the characters. Sometimes the play tends to get a little talky, but for the most part it’s a fascinating trip through time, place, and imagination, anchored by some excellent performances–especially by Davis, Barr, and Flack, who has perhaps the most memorable and sensitively portrayed moments in the play recounting his Hollywood story.
Technically, the production is imaginative and cleverly staged, with a striking, versatile set by Dunsi Dai. There are also marvelously evocative period costumes by Teresa Doggett, and a truly excellent use of music, consisting of some popular music of the 1970’s and atmospheric original music by Henry Palkes. Patrick Huber’s lighting is also impressive, contributing a somewhat ethereal atmosphere to the production and helping to maintain the overall lyrical tone.
It’s obvious from seeing Sublime Intimacy that Ken Page’s memory is vivid, as are his imagination and his artistic sensibility. This isn’t a flawless work–there are some moments that seemed slow at times–but for the most part it’s highly emotional, excellently acted, and fascinating to watch. It’s a strong original effort by Page and company, and it’s well worth seeing and experiencing.