When we first meet Log Cabin’s central foursome — two couples, one lesbian and one gay, diverse as a Benetton ad — it’s 2012 and they’re not fully, as the kids might say, “woke.” Jordan Harrison’s new play, which stars Jesse Tyler Ferguson and opened off-Broadway last night at Playwrights Horizons, attempts to reevaluate a half decade’s worth of LGBT history through a conservative-tinted lens. But for a story plotted in intimate milestones (pregnancies, infidelities, birthdays) that span six years of seismic cultural shifts, Log Cabin feels almost entirely impersonal and surprisingly inert.
Partly this is because we’ve heard these talking points before, born from the growing pains of social change hitting home. Ezra (Ferguson) and Chris (Phillip James Brannon) are newly engaged; Ezra’s best friend, Jules (Dolly Wells), and her partner Pam (Cindy Cheung), are shopping for sperm. A “who would have thought?” air of bemusement hovers over their collective embrace of convention as they march inexorably deeper into Brooklyn yuppie-dom.
“What would Keith Haring think?” Ezra sighs. “All those radical ‘80s art fairies, if they could see us lining up for gender-coded balloons at Party fucking City.”
The group’s own assumptions about gender face new scrutiny when they’re introduced to Ezra’s close childhood friend Henry (Ian Harvie), who has since come out as a trans man. Jules gripes about trans women’s unreasonable demand that she be attracted to them as a lesbian; and as a gay Black man, Chris resents being lumped in with his hetero bullies under the umbrella term “cis.”
This chafing of identities against one another in trying to claim space is interesting territory, if not handled very sensitively or with clarifying nuance here. Because the voices on stage chiefly serve as mouthpieces for points of view (Ezra, a self-described “bleeding heart neo-con”: “Liberalism is a kind of mass conformity”), their conflicts aren’t rooted in character and do little to challenge or deepen our understanding of their social and political opinions.
Though months and years fly by between scenes, director Pam MacKinnon’s production maintains a plodding pace, generating little momentum even as the couples leap from one life-altering decision to the next (the handsome but slow-revolving set is by Allen Moyer). The actors are all credible, even if their characters are only half formed. Ferguson lends an easy amiability to Ezra that may endear his fans, but does little to decipher the contradictions inherent to queer conservatism.
Rather than shed insight on the nature of love and identity at the intersections of privilege and marginalization in which the play is set, Harrison further tests the incredulity inspired by the phrase “log cabin” with plot twists that range from absurd to biologically inconceivable. That election night 2016 also figures into the script, but hard politics don’t spill over into the rest of the story may be most unbelievable of all. In the end, they still don’t seem wide awake to the fact that getting used to progress is the least of our worries.
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(photos: joan marcus)