Michael Hanna and Kasey Mahaffy in Le Switch. Photo by Dan Norman.
Le Switch, a new play by Chicago playwright Phillip Dawkins, which opened at the Jungle Theater last weekend, is a romantic comedy told with grit and truth. It takes place between 2011 and 2014 and focuses on David, played by Kasey Mahaffy, a gay man who has vowed to avoid marriage for years, but never thought that would be much of a problem until recently. The rapid acceptance of the LGBT community, culturally and legally, brings up all sorts of feelings about marriage and his identity that he never thought he would have to confront. And the fact that he is acting as best man in his gay best friend's wedding doesn't help his desire to avoid the topic.
But as things normally go in romantic comedies in the midst of all this avoidance, in an unexpected place he meets an unexpected person and a romance ensues.
But Phillip Dawkins doesn't let us get away that easily or with that little. Not only do we get the squirm in your seat adorable scenes of David meeting his new love interest, the young French Canadian Benoit, played by Michael Hanna. We also get a wide variety of other characters with their own experiences of love. We get Zachary, played by Michael Wieser, David's best friend since they were six, who plays both a bridezilla and loving best friend at the same time. We get Frank, played by Patrick Bailey, David's mentor and father figure, an older gay man who is heartbroken from the death of his partner of over 20 years from cancer. And we get Sarah, played by Emily Gunyou Halaas, David's twin, but older, sister who at the beginning of the play is starting to have different feelings about her 10 year old green card marriage. And we get to see how all these relationships change, including that between David and Benoit, as Act Two takes place two years after Act One.
Le Switch gives us an honest and sharp witted look into all of these familiar and relatable relationships: friends, siblings, mentors, and lovers. Not only that but it looks at what it means to live between two things, or two identities. In the play Benoit calls it Le Switch when he explains what it is like changing between speaking French and English. David is struggling with many of these bridges or middle points. Between being in a loving relationship but also being afraid of marriage, and some could say commitment. Between accepting himself and accepting other people's acceptance of him. And in figuring out where he fits; in the three generation of gays men depicted in the play he sits in the middle.
This idea of straddling two places is explored not only through the story but through the set and physical movement on stage. The set designed by Kate Sutton-Johnson is the most ambitious and impressive I have seem at the Jungle. The back drop rotates, and different set pieces move on and off stage seemingly effortlessly, guided by practically invisible tracks. These moving pieces create empty places, that shrink and grow bigger and that David maneuvers on and between.
Although the play centers around David the performance as a whole feels like a beautiful ensemble piece. It is hard to single out one performance because they all feel so intertwined. Each of the actors brought so much truth to their characters and made Le Switch the best ensemble piece I've seen all year.
Le Switch made for a very fun night at the theater. I'm not exaggerating when I say I laughed, I cried, I had a grand old time.
Le Switch is playing now at the Jungle Theater through July 31.
Thank you to the Jungle Theater for inviting me to this production.