FABULOUS DARSHAN by Bob Stewart
by Martin Denton
Tim Cain, Mike Smith Rivera, & Evan Bernardin in The WorkShop Theater’s Production of FABULOUS DARSHAN. PHOTO: Gerry Goodstein.)
Bob Stewart’s wise, funny, and splendidly entertaining new play at WorkShop Theater Company, is indeed fabulous (in the colloquial sense of over-the-top wonderfulness as well as, per my dictionary, in the sense of being “amazingly good”) As for Darshan, well, let me let The Dictionary of Spiritual Terms explain: In Hinduism, Darshan refers to the perception of the ultimate Truth perhaps through one’s own experience or perhaps through such secondary means as seeing (thus experiencing the spiritual essence of) a guru, a saint , a holy site, or a sacred effigy.
Mr. Stewart generalizes from this idea the ways that members of one generation pass on love, guidance, wisdom, and karma to the younger people they care for and mentor; this view of Darshan is the key to this remarkable play, which is the story of one such mentor as well as a meditation on how this kind of relationship can become the most powerful one in some people’s lives.The two men at the center of Fabulous Darshan are Ken, an African American heavy-set gay man who has been appearing in the same role in an ultra-long-running Broadway musical for 15 years, and Stu, a 22-year- old trust fund kid/wannabe actor who has just arrived in New York City and has improbably befriended Ken. Stu thinks of Ken as a Broadway star, but treats him as an indulgent uncle—the only person, he says, who likes him despite all of his faults. (These include, in addition to the narcissism of youth, addiction to pills and a propensity for hooking up with guys for very wrong reasons.)
Ken is probably in love with Stu on some level, but mostly is content to play the avuncular role, finding in this younger man an outlet for his ample but under-utilized ability and desire to love.
They make a delightful odd couple, especially as we watch them interact with each other (Ken coaches Stu on the history of camp by forcing him to watch Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest, for example) and with a few of their outsized acquaintances and colleagues.
We meet Stu’s boyfriend John-John, a “physical therapist” whom he met on Bigmuscle.com, and Ken’s agent Moishe, who tells Ken that he’s his favorite Harlem Renaissance-Type client. And we meet Ken’s friend, former lover, and one-time mentor Edmond, a flamboyant theatre director suffering from AIDS, and Edmond’s current short-term fling, Dash, the son of a famous TV mogul who is terrified that his father might discover that he’s gay.
And there is one more very important character, the Hindu god Ganesh, who guides Ken through his meditations and serves as a channel for his inner thoughts. Stewart does a magnificent job bridging the spiritual and actual worlds that Ken occupies in this play and with Director- Susan Izatt, relies upon the magical intimacy of theatre to drift in and out of Ken’s head with perfect ease.
Fabulous Darshan tracks Ken and Stu’s relationship, and uses it to reflect on the ways that older men (older gay men, perhaps, in particular) pass things on to their younger counterparts. Edmond reflects at one point that his generation were supposed to be the pioneers of liberated gay life, but instead too many of them were felled by AIDS. Ken, who came up (and out) after Stonewall, must carry the torch.
But although Fabulous Darshan is fabulous in every way (there are loads of dance breaks and endless references to Broadway musicals and camp cult films; Ken even does a brief impersonation of Ethel Waters in Member of the Wedding at one point).
Although all of its characters are gay men, please do not ghettoize this as gay theatre. No, this is wondrously human theatre, trading in the universal struggles and truths that everyone deals with in their lives.
Stewart and his collaborators explore the human condition with grace, intelligence, joy, and compassion. Sofia Palacios Blanco has provided a spare, fluid set that serves as Ken’s apartment and many other locations beyond without the need for set changes; it’s dominated by a colorful altar to Ganesh that represents Ken’s inner self beautifully. Diana Duecker’s lighting and Quentin Chiappetta’s Sound complement this world, as do Chris Hlinka’s appropriate, fun costumes.
The four-man company is superb! Tim Cain anchors the play as Ken in a tour de force performance that’s just bursting with heart. As the god Ganesh as well as Moishe, Dash, and John-John, Mike Smith Rivera gets to demonstrate his alarming versatility and talent. Spencer Scott Barros brings maturity, insight, and great empathy to the role of Edmond. And newcomer Evan Bernardin is excellent as Stu, his own young age belying the depth and complexity he’s able to bring to this character.
Fabulous Darshan is a triumph for WorkShop, a long-running indie company whose raison d’etre is to develop new scripts like this one. It deserves a long, fabulous future.
by Steve Hauck
Evan Bernadin, Mike Smith Rivera, Spencer S. Barros and Tim Cain in Fabulous Darshan.
BOTTOM LINE: A wise, witty and exuberant new play about learning to love.
Oscar Wilde said it best: “To love one’s self is the beginning of a life-long romance.” Long before Oprah, Madonna or Louise Hay, history’s most famous gay man was preaching self-love. It’s ironic and yet oddly appropriate. While gays don’t have a monopoly on suffering, I can personally attest that internalized homophobia continues to take its toll. And as the current Broadway revival of Larry Kramer’s:
1985 play The Normal Heart reminds us, we mustn’t underestimate the damage done by AIDS to the gay community and consciousness.
But as Bob Stewart’s hilarious and touching new play Fabulous Darshan illustrates, gay men are remarkably resilient. Perhaps because of these individual and collective challenges, we are strong, we are invincible, we are…well…fabulous.
Stewart’s theatre piece à clef centers on Ken Satchel (Tim Cain), a gay man of color, a certain age, and positive HIV status. Ken has carved out a successful career for himself in show business, and is securely ensconced in the longest running show on Broadway (“Now and forever,” anyone?). Ken’s main resources are a keen sense of humor and a deeply personal spirituality. Like many exiles from traditional religion, Ken has developed his own rituals and beliefs, which include meditation and lively philosophical discussions with the Hindu god Ganesh (Mike Smith Rivera), a sort of wise and wise-cracking, don’t-worry-be-happy life coach.
Not that Ken’s life is without its dilemmas. His cluttered apartment is comfortable but a bit lonely. And his agent is pushing him to abandon his cozy nest for Los Angeles so that he can pursue a potentially lucrative voiceover career. (“You’re cheaper than James Earl Jones.”) Into this tenuous serenity careens Stu (Evan Bernardin), a 22-year old trust fund baby and would-be actor for whom Ken has both a soft spot and a hard spot (if you know what I mean). Stu is neurotic, impulsive, anxious…and infuriatingly attractive as the young often are. Will Ken’s conflicting desires upset his carefully maintained equilibrium?
Ken makes it his project to show the tortured Stu just what a blessing — and a blast — it is to be gay. Like a tribal storyteller, Ken initiates Stu into the joys of camp in the form of over-the-top movie classics Valley of the Dolls, Mommy Dearest, and his personal sine qua non of trashy brilliance, Showgirls . Amidst an endless stream of witty lines and laughs of profound recognition, the two men establish a bond of friendship and mutual regard that is moving to behold. Ken teaches Stu that self- respect is a right but must also be earned, while learning that inner peace is only valuable when it leads to empathy and risk-taking.
The intimate Workshop Theater Company production is the result of five years of development and the sustained care and commitment show. Director Susan Izatt has choreographed a fluid dance of gorgeous design elements and rich, emotionally nuanced performances. Smith Rivera inhabits 4 very different roles with thrillingly disciplined abandon. Bernardin’s frenetic intensity as Stu is believable and compelling. As Edmond, Ken’s mentor, Spencer Scott Barros runs the gamut from acerbity to vulnerability with élan. Cain holds the whole undertaking together with affecting charm, grace and humanity.
Darshan can be translated as honor, dignity, or self-realization. For me it’s about the joy that comes from cultivating self-love and sharing it with family, friends, and ultimately the world. And lest you think that the production is only for gay men, I leave you with the words of my companion at the show, a straight woman: “It made me feel terrific.” Darshan is universal. May yours be fabulous too!
by Georgina Young-Ellis
FABULOUS “Fabulous Darshan!”
Workshop Theater Company’s production of Fabulous Darshan, written by Bob Stewart and directed by Susan Izatt, is an extremely funny and terribly moving play about friendship, loss and celebration of life. A concentrated 90 minutes on a minimal but elegant set, Fabulous Darshan is really all about the acting.
Tim Cain plays Ken Satchel, an aging Broadway veteran of color who befriends a young, confused actor, Stu, played with fitting intensity by Evan Bernardin. Cain has an appealing physicality, and flawless comic timing that drives his character’s self-deprecating gay jokes straight home. Ken’s long-time friend and ex, Edmond, played with spectacular flair by Spencer Scott Barros, is the person Ken turns to when he needs someone near his own age to appreciate his references to old movies and Broadway shows. However his middle aged friend also shares the disease that the young men in the story do not yet understand or fear quite enough.
Mike Smith Rivera plays “Actor 1,” taking on various characters including the Indian god Ganesh, a flamboyant talent agent, and a couple of Stu’s promiscuous heartthrobs. Each character is so distinctly different, and each so entertaining, his presence on the stage assures plenty of laughs, as well as a thrillingly heightened tension.
It’s clear that Ms. Izatt is an actor’s director, equally clear that Mr. Stewart writes for them. The dialogue is sharp and fluid, the kind that actors can really dig into. There’s high emotion as well, and each of these well-cast performers maneuvers it beautifully. Fabulous Darshan is a fun and joyful evening of theater; also a heart- wrenching one – well-balanced, well-produced and handled with love and expertise by all involved. The show runs through June 25th; go to Workshoptheater.org for times and reservations.
INDIE THEATRE NOW
by Martin Denton
Once in a very great while, I see the first public performance of a new play that feels so much like a hit that I can’t wait to tell everyone I know all about it!
That’s what happened to me on June 2nd of this year, when I went to the WorkShop Theatre to see Bob Stewart’s Fabulous Darshan. The show was amazing; the energy on stage and in the audience was electric; the evening ended with a standing ovation, something that almost NEVER happens in the world of indie theater.
PERRY BRASS’ BLOG RAVE— http://queernewyorkblog.blogspot.com/2011=06/perry-brass- lost-gay- new-york-george.html
“Also, if you can, check out Fabulous Darshan, an amazing small show (4 men in the cast) at the adventurous Workshop Theatre Company, 312 W. 36th Street, 4th Floor. Fabulous Darshan has been packed as a bona fide Gay Pride event, and it should be. It’s a show that mixes HIV and its consequences, the real strength and meaning of queer relationships and the generations that share them, Disco, pop drivel (OK Pop culture) and Eastern meditation, and its leading character is a queer man of color and of size, who’s also an amazing creation as a character. The cast is fantastic—I’ve rarely seen so much talent on a stage this small. In fact, it’s a small play that’s bursting out of it’s setting. You’ll want to jump up & clap at the end of it!