THEATER REVIEW / RED BARN BRINGS OLD HOLLYWOOD BACK WITH MICHAEL MCKEEVER’S NEWEST, “THE CODE”
It’s true: the more things change, the more they stay the same. Or, since we’re in today’s Florida, it might be more relevant to say that no matter the strides we’ve made over the years, there’s always someone who sees the old ways as preferable.
While playwright Michael McKeever may not have set out to write a play that resonates so vibrantly with what many in our community are struggling against today, his latest play, “The Code”, running March 7-25 at Key West’s Red Barn Theatre, does just that. Written about Hollywood in the 1950’s, it is most certainly germane to the LGBTQ issues that have arisen in today’s Southernmost State.
The play is set in the stylish home of Billy Haines, an actual silent film megastar who left the film business for personal reasons that become apparent as the story unfolds. Haines, now a successful interior designer, has invited a few friends for cocktails before they head out to a dinner party at famed director George Cukor’s house. Those friends include the glamorous and unfiltered film star Tallulah Bankhead; the oily and unpleasant agent, Henry Willson; and Willson’s latest find (and love interest) – aspiring young actor Chad Manford.
As the evening unfolds, it becomes clear that the “Code” which quickly dominates the conversation refers to the surreptitious rules that Hollywood has imposed to govern the way anyone LBGTQ has to behave in order to have a career and hope to succeed in Tinseltown. It’s a 1950’s version of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” seasoned with some “never admit” and a lot of “deny who you are and live a lie or go home”. To be gay in an industry policed by the Legion of Decency, the Hayes Code, and the House Un-American Activities Committee can not only get you labeled a deviant and a subversive, but it’s without doubt a death knell for a career on the silver screen.
McKeever’s skill with witty, very funny banter mixes perfectly with his ability to take a look at history from a different perspective. He channels Bankhead’s famous cutting wit, and nails the blackhearted Svengali a compromised agent can be. The play elicits its full share of laugh-out-loud moments in the way it looks at Old Hollywood and it’s foibles, but in the era of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” and overt attempts at marginalization of the LGBTQ community, it has serious moments of resonance to modern times that cannot be missed.
The play stars South Florida favorite Tom Wahl as Haines, Key West favorites Mary Falconer as Bankhead and David Black as Willson, and showcases newcomer Carlos Ortega Amorin as Manford. It will be directed by Christopher Renshaw, the accomplished British director who helmed the World Premiere of the play last year. Renshaw has a Tony nomination and a couple of Drama Desk Awards for his play direction, and will be directing a new play based on the life of Louis Armstrong next year on Broadway. It’s a coup to have him directing here in Key West.
Tickets for “The Code” can be purchased at redbarntheatre.com or by calling the Red Barn box office at 305-296-9911. Ticketholders for Opening Night, March 7, are invited to remain after the show for the Opening Night party, where they can mingle with the cast and crew and enjoy a light nosh.
The play is sponsored in part by Royal Furniture, Design Group Key West, Culture Builds Florida, and the Monroe County Tourist Development Council.[livemarket market_name="KONK Life LiveMarket" limit=3 category=“” show_signup=0 show_more=0]