It's a drag that the main character in Steven Ludwig's new play, Accidental Dancers, is a gay man buried as deeply in the closet as your favorite Le Tigre shirt. It's a drag because the very notion that this is a "gay" play will excite those who consider such fare must-viewing and will turn off those who don't.
And that's a drag because this play is far simpler and more profound than just gender politics and sexual preference. It's an intensely compelling, well-written piece that should strike a chord with anyone who has ever felt confused; abused; misused; or fucked up, over or around in a relationship. Which would be, uh, everyone.
Accidental Dancers is about a character trying to find the rhythm of his own heart—and who has to break two other hearts in the process. Man gets married, seems happy, former lover walks into life, everyone's life is transformed as façades crumble and difficult, often cruel truths are dealt with.
We've seen more or less this kind of thing before, and Ludwig's play contains all the requisite ingredients for relationship drama of the month: betrayal, guilt, jealousy and lots of pain. But there's just enough humor, poetry and, most important, honesty to make the material feel fresh.
Three finely nuanced performances (Stephanie Geyer, Steve Johansen and Christopher May) and solid, straightforward direction courtesy of Michael Ambrosio prevents this world-premiere production from wallowing in emotional excess. This could very easily be an excruciating affair, full of sniveling queens and soap-opera dramatics. Instead, it's an honest look at the complexity of the human heart. There are no simple answers or romantic, tidy endings.
And, yes, it's about a closeted homosexual wrestling with the guilt, anger and frustration of being queer in an apparently straight world. And, yes, Ludwig's writing and Ambrosio's direction do, at times, linger in the world of "this is a play about predominately gay people, and damn it, you're going to notice"—hence the passionate man-on-man kissing and chest baring, the kind of fleshy staging rarely seen when the love triangle on trial consists of one woman and two men.
But the beauty of Ludwig's play is that like any effective piece of art, it rises above the subject matter and registers on a universal level. When one character shatters the illusion of another, it's not about a closeted gay man who's lived in denial for most of his life before finally glimpsing genuine liberation, it's about any of us who have settled for a relationship that doesn't allow much room for evolution.
That rather uncompromising look at relationships is also what makes Accidental Dancers strangely provocative. Ludwig dismisses "true love," "soul mates," "happiness" and all the other gibberish we like to dream is waiting to be discovered like El Dorado's golden streets. For any of that to materialize, the seeker has to be whole first. Otherwise, all unions are doomed to failure, stagnation or deceit. And the power of Ludwig's play is that unlike "real" life, where we settle for contentment and familiarity and all the other great deadeners, the protagonist in this play refuses, saying goodbye to the people who have helped him see what he needs to do.
That makes this less a play about finding someone else or even finding oneself; it's about the need to lose everything else in order to move on to the next stage. That sounds like an empty platitude, but it's very moving and—what?—connective when it happens live onstage. The fact that a local playwright (Ludwig is a member of the Orange County Playwrights Alliance) has written such a mature, affecting piece is something to be greatly celebrated.
Accidental Dancers, Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach, (562) 494-1014. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m. Through July 15. $12-$15.