On the Grounds of Belonging – Review by Bonnie Goldberg

The painful lessons of the doomed love between Juliet and her Romeo as well as the passionate climax of Tony’s devotion for Maria in “West Side Story,” what happens when you don’t “stick to your own kind,” are all too evident in the unexpected romance that blooms between Russell and Tom in Ricardo Perez Gonzalez’s world premiere drama “On the Grounds of Belonging.” Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven will unveil this forbidden coupling until Sunday, November 3.

While Houston, Texas in the late 1950’s sported a number of gay bars, the number and frequency of lynchings was well documented. Wilson Chin has designed one such establishment, a detailed Gold Room where men of color frequented for social connections of a sexual nature. Presided over by bartender Hugh Williams, a judicious Thomas Silcott, it was a safe environment for meetings. Safe that is until a white man in drag, one Thomas Aston, captured by a sensitive Jeremiah Clapp, runs in to find sanctuary when a raid in the nearby Red Room for white gays only is in progress.

The Red Room for gay white men is owned by Mooney Fitzpatrick, a mean spirited Craig Bockhorn, who also lays claim to the Gold Room. He needs to be in control and he is quick to proclaim his power if anyone opposes his will. When Tom and Russell find a tender connection that has the potential to develop into something deeper and more lasting, the dye is cast for complications and possible disaster. Also on the scene as witnesses are Russell’s long standing more than a friend Henry Stanfield, a jealously guarded Blake Anthony Morris, who enjoys playing the field as long as Russell is loyally there to come home to at the end of the day. The powerful lounge singer Tanya Starr, a concerned Tracey Conyer Lee, spreads her influence in the maelstrom of emotions and swirls the action to a heartbreaking pitch.

These are trying times where violence is just around the corner waiting to pounce. The story is real, the characters are sincere and the ending is anticipated to be tragic. David Mendizabel directs the action with consummate grace.

For tickets ($30-75), call the Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven at 203-787-4282 or online at www.longwharftheatre.org. Performances are Tuesday at 7 p.m., Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Be a witness to a forbidden love, “of a homosexual persuasion,” that defies the odds and declares itself worthy of existence.