“Falsettos,” a play that demonstrates the complexity of human relationships and challenges the traditional family dynamic, will be taking the stage at Grandstreet Theatre for two weeks starting Friday.
The play centers on a gay man named Marvin, his wife Trina, and his child Jason, whom he leaves to be with his lover, Whizzer. Set in the 1980s, the musical is an unconventional way of addressing the early stages of the devastating AIDS crisis.
“It’s one of the first shows that really dealt with the AIDS crisis,” said Director Lysa Fox. “And it’s a musical. It’s not necessarily a topic you would think of for a musical, but it really is beautifully done and so conversational.”
Though it’s a musical, there are only seven cast members, which makes for the type of intimate family play that "Falsettos" arguably revolutionized. The musical is carried out almost entirely through song, with few spoken parts. According to Fox and Jill Roberts, who plays Trina, the soundtrack is complex, but the complexity is needed to hold a mirror to the intricacies of each character.
“I think we could work on these characters for years and maybe never really get all the nuances. I think that’s one of the biggest challenges, is that these are not one-dimensional characters,” Roberts said. “They are multi-dimensional with many, many layers, and the relationships are even more complex.”
Tokenism is absent from "Falsettos," as each character serves more of a purpose than simply existing. As Roberts said, the gay characters are not just “sidekicks;” they shape the play. Each is a fully developed individual with flaws and idiosyncrasies that they own, according to the cast.
“These characters are real, and I think that’s what’s so beautiful about this piece,” Roberts said. “These people are really transparent. They show their faults.”
Beyond that, "Falsettos' brings with it the type of representation that many are craving.
“I’m just happy and proud to represent characters who are not often represented on stage,” said Jeff Downing, who plays Marvin. “I think representation is really important, and more than half of the characters are gay. I didn’t have that growing up. I didn’t get to go to a play and watch a man sing a love song to another man.”
The characters add a touch of humanity to the play, allowing audience members to connect with them on different levels, whether based on sexuality or otherwise. There’s something universal about complex familial relationships or the tug of heartache after a breakup. Not just a "gay play," "Falsettos" is something that many can relate to, the cast said.
"Falsettos" also offers the kind of timeless messages that remain unchanged, even as social and political situations adapt and evolve.
“Our struggles are the same -- our struggles with ourselves, our struggles with love, our struggles with community, our struggles with identity,” Roberts said. “We constantly have to keep reminding ourselves that we need to move through this world with kindness and open eyes and understanding and humanity. Those things haven’t changed.”
Not coincidentally, the play is opening on the weekend Big Sky Pride is in Helena for its 25th anniversary. The LGBTQ festival started Wednesday and will continue through Sunday, with splashes of rainbow taking over downtown each day. The cast was asked to do a number on Saturday during the rally, in a move that signals the mutual support between the cast and Big Sky Pride.