Neal Starbird brilliantly plays the former governor, whose public demeanor is of a man who would change New Jersey for the better, but whose private life is juxtaposed between the person he is expected to be -- the straight laced, black coffee drinking politician -- and the person he wants to be – a gay man who is proud to express his feeling for a young page… named Page. Starbird brings McGreevey to life; a charming man who, like any good politician, knows that promises get you votes and that “favors” are part of the daily communiqué between colleagues. He hilariously navigates his character through the political world to the likes of Mark Foley, (R) Florida, and another closeted member of congress. From having his young Page move in to his home, to taking his personal aid, an Israeli named Golan, to a gay nightclub; Starbird is the perfect caricature of the real life McGreevey. He cleverly talks his way out of trouble with double entendres at times and even “tap dances” his way out of trouble with the press. One of the best scenes in the play is one in which McGreevey dodges accusations of homosexuality and a young page named Philly Buster, brilliantly played by Freddie Donovan, literally tap dances to the rhythm of McGreevey’s speech. It’s that in-your-face humor and storytelling that makes this play a stand out and one that needs many more stages.
Aside from McGreevey’s internal and external struggles, the play also examines what “could-have-happened” behind the scenes before the infamous speech in which McGreevey announced to the world “I am a gay American,”… words that swiftly ended his political career. What makes “The Gay American” great is that the line between fact and fiction is blurred. Like a cleaver politician, director Kristian O’Hare weaves truth with make-believe, creating the complicated and scandalous world of the former governor. She takes a hard look behind-the-scenes of the American politician and his family, and examines the harsh repercussions and collateral damage of one man’s choices and actions. One of the most notable performances is Dina McGreevey, play by the talented and witty Julie Cowden. She portrays the “perfect” politician’s wife, but as her husband’s exploits and extracurricular activities begin to surface she delves into a pained and tragic heroine turning to alcohol and drugs to keep going and looking to Oscar Wilde’s dead apparition of a wife for comfort and advice. McGreevey’s daughter Morag “it sounds like a sea monster” McGreevey, played by Stevie Chaddock, is the epitome of teenage angst, experimenting with cutting and online dating and dealing with thoughts of selling her virginity on EBay. McGreevey’s world is anything but perfect and the audience member is constantly asking, “What really happened?” Did Governor Mark Foley really use and abuse young and idealistic young pages? Did Dina McGreevey really suffer from post-partum depression? Did McGreevey really have an affair with his aide Golan? Are pages really belittled and used as sexual play-things to the whose-who of D.C.? And just where is the line drawn between what is morally acceptable and what is right? This play is so well written that much of what is portrayed could have actually happened this way.
This is American Political Theater at its best, and O’Hare could not have cast a more cleaver, witty, and hilarious cast of characters. I hope you won’t have a “momentarily lapse of judgment” and miss this show. It is only around until May 26th at the Side Project Theater, located at 1439 West Jarvis Avenue, so go cast your vote for this fantastic play before its term is over.