Monday, November 6, 2017

"Le Switch"

Le Switch
Philip Dawkins

Ryan Vásquez & Steve Rhyne
“Welcome to Library School.  When you leave this program you will be able to classify everything.”

And with that, David in his trademark cardigan of questionable colors and accompanying bowtie begins his first lecture of the new term.  When he goes on to tell the librarian novitiates, “We are the keepers of classification,” David is actually talking about his own life.  He has 1-2-3’ed his entire life and beliefs.  Those beliefs include that no matter that it is 2011 and New York has just legalized same-sex marriage, he has no intent – ever, never – of recreating the mess his parents had and get married himself.  After all, what was his coming out all about at eighteen if not to divorce himself from “traditional” relationships?

That mantra holds firm for David in Philip Dawkins’ Le Switch, now in a well-acted, beautifully set, regional premiere at New Conservatory Theatre Center.  That is until David lays eyes on a certain, to-die-for-cute Québécois, there are no doubts of his confirmed bachelorhood.  But even as he is tongue-tied and blushing upon meeting Benoit, David’s classification system immediately sets in, telling him no matter how adorable, sweet, and loving Benoit is (and he is all that and much more as played by Ryan Vásquez), he will not be part of the gay horde of lemmings jumping over the cliff into dreaded matrimony.

David has also classified himself with lots of other categories that set him apart and make him different in his own mind from most everyone else in the world.  After all, he collects rare books that dominate his NYC apartment and makes a point never to open any of them, only imagining what stories might lie within.  He loves calling himself “queer” in every sense of the word, even though as played so well by Steve Rhyne, he is about as straight-laced looking and acting as ... well, as the librarian that he is.  His twin sister, Sarah, does try to point out to him that he is not all that out of the norm; after all he buys his socks at the drug store, loves playing Monopoly, and uses “3-in-1 Prell.”  But David stubbornly hangs onto his self-defined classifications and rejects anything being “normal” about himself – including any intention of accepting Benoit’s eventual, bended-knee proposal.

In his Le Switch Philip Dawkins establishes the framework for a funny, heart-warming, if not also quite predictable and formulaic romantic comedy.  As directed by Tom Bruett, the NCTC production moves along at a brisk pace with each member of the cast establishing qualities quirky, endearing, and likeable.  (Well, there is actually nothing “quirky” about Ryan Vásquez’s mid-twenties Benoit; he is just over-the-top “endearing” and “likeable.”  And did I mention dimple-cheeked cute?)

The sparks between David and Benoit are visceral, and the electricity shooting back and forth between them is almost visible.  Through his direction of the two, Mr. Bruett ensures that each side or extended gaze, each slight or purposeful touch, and each brushed or intense kiss only makes the eventual outcome more inevitable – even with David’s classification system creating roadblocks through his stubborn demeanor all along the way.

Brian J. Patterson & Steve Rhyne
Much of the play’s humor and also commentary on what committed, love relationships really can look like come from others who make up David’s inner circle of life.  Brian J. Patterson is David’s lifelong best buddy, Zachary, who has asked the confirmed bachelor-for-life to be his best man in a wedding whose colors are “pumpkin and aubergine” (that is, very orange and eggplant purple).  As straight-laced as David is, Mr. Patterson’s Zachary is flashy, over-dramatic, and let’s just say, a bit on the swishy side.  As he admits, “I majored in causing a scene and minored in ‘What are you looking at?’”  Zachary is also totally in love and so very excited finally to be able to marry.

Steve Rhyne & Nancy French
David’s twin, Sarah, has been in a ten-year marriage-of-convenience to David’s non-resident friend, Jamal, in order to help him to be a legal U.S. resident.  Imagine David’s dumbfounded reaction (and more than slight annoyance) when his partner in confirmed ‘never-to-marry’ announces that she and Jamal are now in fact married in more than just the legal document that for so long meant nothing?  Nancy French is a sister any “brudder” would die to have – loving, snarky, fun, and funny.  If she only were not also so prone to call his bluff and start some truth-telling that begins dissembling his tightly defined categories about himself.

Ryan Vásquez & Donald Currie
Rounding out this talented cast is Donald Currie as Frank, another of David’s long-term friends -- in this case an older man who (along with his deceased husband) helped shepherd David through some former, rough spots in his life.  Frank, also a librarian, is a life-long protester for multiple causes and thus oft-inhabitant of a jail cell (although he admits after his latest bail-out by David, “I’m getting too old for this; jail is not what it used to be.”)  Mr. Currie displays a wide range of emotional acumen in his portrayal of Frank, from quirky old man to a partner still very much in love with and grieving for his deceased.  As too a confirmed ‘don’t-need-to-marry-to-love’ gay man, Frank’s example and advice to David becomes a major turning point for the currently conflicted-in-love guy who is much like a son of the elder friend.

Steve Rhyne & Ryan Vásquez
As wonderful as the cast is, the real star of this production is the set and accompanying projections created by Sarah Phykitt.  Sliding floor-to-ceiling panels with various sized panes that move easily in three different depths on stage provide the possibility for many settings and entrances/exits.  They also become the canvases for an ongoing array of beautiful, scene/mood-setting projections, all enhanced by a fabulously stunning lighting design by Sophia Craven.  Much of the evening’s success in conveying this romantic comedy comes from the production’s creative team (including Wes Crain’s character-defining costumes, Sara Witsch’s background sounds, and Chris Daroca’s detailed and fun props).

Philip Dawkins’ Le Switch does not plow any new theatrical ground nor tell a story that has unseen twists and turns for a surprise ending.  This is a play that is just a plain, ol’ good time to watch -- one guaranteed to produce lots of laughs and a few, heartfelt sighs.  New Conservatory Theatre Center has pulled out all the necessary stops to guarantee an enjoyable, smile-producing evening.

Rating: 4 E

Le Switch continues through December 3, 2017 at

on the Walker Theatre stage of The New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness Avenue at Market Street, San Francisco.  Tickets are available online at or by calling the box office at 415-861-8972.

Photo by Lois Tema

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