Evolution Begins 2018 Season With Sweet, Charming ‘Electricity’
Evolution Theatre Company kicked off their 2018 season with the Midwestern premiere – in fact, the first production outside of California – of Terry Ray’s charming Electricity directed by Mark Schwamberger.
Electricity traces the evolving friendship and complicated love of Gary (Terry Ray) and Brad (Ralph Scott) over four scenes spread 10 years apart. We meet the men in 1983, sharing a budget Chillicothe motel – Keely Heyl’s set is filled with appropriate but not showy details. It’s night of their 10 year High School reunion.
Brad took off for NYC after High School and immediately embraced his sexuality and the pace of the city. Gary tried seminary before landing in California and is still so far in the closet when we meet him he brings a back story starring a wife who couldn’t join him, named after Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island.
In the heart of that first meeting Gary reveals that his days of religious instruction gave him opportunity to be close to other men and he would get as close as he could without touching to feel the electricity between the two. That central metaphor is the beating heart that animates this sweet, amiable play, for its two hours with a 10 minute intermission.
There’s no pejorative in my use of the word sweet to describe this production of Electricity. Terry Ray’s writing and Mark Schwamberger’s direction share a subtle, humane quality that exudes love for these characters at all angles. No matter how dark the circumstances of their lives become – and the forty years presented include the nadir of the AIDS crisis the play never sinks to the level of despair.
The play between tight – location – and expansive – chronology – elements in Electricity requires much from its stars and Ray and Scott soar in the face of that challenge. With minimal makeup changes, the audience easily and wholeheartedly believes the hard-won friendship that develops and the connection between them even as they put one another through at least a couple kinds of hell. Ray’s Gary grows into a fully formed personality without sanding down his key edges. Scott’s Brad lets slip a little bit of his mask of bravado and swagger make room for a warmth and gentleness as he cares for Gary and, eventually, confronts his own demons. Their chemistry keeps the broader punchlines and exaggerated emotional beats from turning this into the kind of “Hallmark movie” both characters mock.
There isn’t much new territory in Electricity but it’s an utter joy getting to spend a couple hours with these two characters in that little hotel room.
Electricity runs through June 9 with shows at 2:00 p.m. Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, and 8:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For tickets and more info, please visit evolutiontheatre.org.