The 2010 suicide of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers student and victim of cyberbullying, who jumped to his death, in despair and desperation, off the George Washington Bridge, deeply affected our community, as we contemplated this extreme result of homophobia. Playwright Chris Weikel considered that it might not be inevitable that anti-LGBTQ bullying lead to tragedy and, in his imaginative new play “Secret Identity,” now presented by The Other Side of Silence (TOSOS), downtown at the Flea Theater, offers his take on how such a tale could otherwise have ended. TOSOS was founded, four-and-a-half decades ago, by late pioneering playwright, Leatherman, and early Gay Activist Doric Wilson and his friends and it continues to keep his work alive, as well as encouraging new efforts by others, as he did. Touching, uplifting, and humorous, as it wends its way through the complicated life of a gay teenager, probing his imagination, vulnerability, and strength, “Secret Identity” makes a most worthy addition to TOSOS’ repertory.
Meet JT (Keith Weiss): he’s campy, funny, and feeling, passionate about comic book superheroes and Broadway music alike, and looking for love and acceptance in decidedly wrong places. It’s confusing, Weikel maintains, to be a teen, coping with shifting loyalties, fantasies that loom large, and homophobia around too many corners. Populating JT’s world are: his longtime and sometimes underappreciated hetero friend Reg (Nick Maindireatta), with whom he’s trying to create a superhero that doesn’t duplicate those that DC and Marvel have already put out there; his sexy crush Trey (Kory Alexander Majansky), a jock who likes music and offers friendship; his louche archfoe Mal (Zachary Gault), whose name says it all, backed by shady cronies Crabbe (CJ DiOrio) and Goyle (Keno Golaub); his mother Mrs. Schuster (Jamie Heinlein), who does her best, but can’t know all the ins and outs of what her son is going through; and his teacher Mr. Bachman (David Leeper), who’s supportive in his way, but JT is not his only charge.
And then there are the superheroes, the good, the bad, and the flawed, who make JT wish he had a superpower and could be a hero’s sidekick: the “enigmatic” Paladin (Michael Joseph Murray), who makes aiding JT his mission, and Guise (Michael Flood), perpetually in peril—both handsomely filling out those skintight muscle costumes, created here by Ben Philipp, that superheroes always seem to wear—plus the dreaded Dyre, voiced by Michael Emerson.
Kudos to creative playwright Weikel; to director Mark Finley for realizing and elucidating Weikel’s complex dream; and to the fine cast that Finley and Weikel are working with. Scott Mancha gives the company a colorful comic-book metropolis to play before, and Morry Campell (sound and music), Paul Hudson (lighting), and Estella Stone (makeup) make strong contributions, too. Michael Striano directed the fight scenes. Michael Zegarski, Bree Williams-Mossiah, Brett Douglas, and Robin Kaufman do their parts to make the show go smoothly.
On January 9, “Secret Identity” previews began and the second of those, on the 10th, is discussed here. January 12 was designated as opening night and the run continues, on Wednesdays to Saturdays at 7 p.m. through February 2. Visit www.TOSOSNYC.org
for tickets and information. The Flea is located at 20 Thomas Street, between Duane and Worth Streets, between Church Street and Broadway. Don’t miss “Secret Identity!”