Albert Innaurato’s sweetly engaging late 70s dark comedy Gemini, about two wildly dysfunctional but fiercely devoted urban families who share an urban Philadelphia rowhouse backyard, made waves 30 years ago for many reasons, not the least of which was the grindingly uncomfortable but amusing coming out of its leading character, who as written may or may not declare his sexual preference to his boisterous blue-collar Italian father and his confused college sweetheart on the occasion of his 21st birthday. Innaurato’s tale hasn’t lost its comedic bite—or its sincerity—after three decades, especially as rejuvenated as it is in the Celebration Theatre’s lovingly conceived revival.
As recreated by director Stan Zimmerman and played on Kurt Boetcher’s versatile set, which makes amazing use of the small Celebration space, veteran actors Peter Onorati, Stephanie Faracy and Mindy Sterling are the major reason this return to working-class South Philly in the era immediately following Vietnam still maintains its zing.
Onorati as brash Italian dad Fran Geminiani brings great depth to what could be a stock character, even managing, while advising his dating-aged son, to deliver the line: “See, a white woman is like a big hole… you never know what you’re gonna find in it,” and miraculously making it work.
Sterling and Faracy are the heart of this production as, respectively, Fran’s annoying but endearing girlfriend Lucille (who earnestly advises Judith to “heat up a coke bottle, cuz’ men aren’t worth a shit”) and their foulmouthed blousy neighbor Bunny (whose well-displayed tits and frequent suicide attempts are neighborhood legend as she whines over her midlife deterioration: “I fuckin’ got hair like hepatitis now”). Both Sterling and Faracy are absolutely on top of their game in these difficult comedic roles, expertly walking that fine line between playing a character and being one.
Unfortunately, under the otherwise carefully articulated watch of Zimmerman, Mark Strano and Amber Krzys as the star-crossed Francis Jr. and his wealthy Ivy League pseudo-girlfriend Judith just miss the mark and keep this worthwhile revival from achieving the success it might have.
First of all, there’s no reason for Strano to play Francis as such a total cartoon geek, sometimes seeming as dorky as his mentally-challenged neighbor Herschel (Joel Michaely), but beyond that, the major problem here is that although Strano and Krzys obviously understand their pivotal roles and the storypoints they need to explore intellectually, unlike their costars, they both tend to talk in the general direction of one another with a constant, almost uncomfortable awareness of playing to an audience rather than really relating and talking to one another.
In contrast with Justin Schaefer’s continuously involved and serenely simple character choices as the object of Francis’ wet dreams, Judith’s affably naïve (but too demurely clothed… ah, I miss the 70s!) brother Randy, as well as the surprising simplicity of Michaely as the usually outrageous over-the-top Herschel, Strano and Krzys, both clearly fine young actors with lotsa of room to grow into these roles, don’t yet fare as well as the delightfully crusty old vets they’re playing opposite, from whom they’re bound to learn a few judicious lessons during this otherwise quintessential return of Gemini.
Gemini plays through June 17 at the Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., WeHo; for tickets, call 323.957.1884.