Le Switch


Benoît (Michael Hanna) and David (Kasey Mahaffy). Photo by Dan Norman.

I’m just going to come right out and say it: I loved Le Switch. I feel a little guilty about this, mainly because it’s a pretty standard form rom-com complete with quirky characters and convenient coincidences and the overarching message that the best, most important thing you can do in life is fall in love and get married. In theory, I don’t like this sort of thing, but the reality is that Le Switch is so well executed, from script to staging, that I thoroughly enjoyed myself and have already texted a certain number of friends to suggest they get tickets.

Oh, and it’s nicely timed for Twin Cities Pride (this coming weekend, June 24-26) — did I mention that it’s a romantic comedy about gay men?

Le Switch is the first show born of a new partnership between the Jungle and the Playwrights’ Center; the play was first presented at the PWC’s annual PlayLabs Festival in 2014, and the current production is directed by Jeremy B. Cohen, who also serves as the Producing Artistic Director at the PWC. This seems like a promising partnership; as Jungle Artistic Director Sarah Rasmussen writes in her program notes, “the Jungle and the Playwrights’ Center share a passion for supporting work that starts here in Minnesota” – something that, in this writer’s opinion, is a Good Thing, with the sheer amount of local talent we have!

Back to the production, though. Chicago-based playwright Philip Dawkins has crafted a very tight script in Le Switch. The action moves quickly and cleverly and practically crackles with energy as it flies from silliness to heartache to philosophical debate to sweet romance.

The story is pretty simple: boy meets boy, boy has commitment issues, boy loves boy.. you know. David is a 30-something Jewish man living in Manhattan, and he’s a serial monogamist whose relationships end the moment a boyfriend suggests marriage or cohabitation. As same-sex marriage is legalized first in New York, and then across the country, David is up to his ears in his friends’ weddings, most recently, that of his BFF, Zachary. On a weekend trip to Montréal for a bachelor party, David falls head over heels for a French Canadian florist named Benoît. Emotional turmoil ensues.

There is a lot of conversation about what it means to be queer. This isn’t a debate about whether same-sex marriage should be legal, but rather, it is an identity crisis. David is struggling to find a positive queer identity that is not defined by what it isn’t (straight). After years of being part of a counter-culture, the thing that made him different is no longer a barrier, and so he is lost.

This is an ongoing discussion within the LGBT community at large, too. In 2013, supporters of marriage equality in Minnesota kept pushing the message that LGBT people are “just like you” in that they just want to get married and settle down. Some people from the LGBT community countered with the argument that this was harming the larger cause, because queer folks shouldn’t have to be “just like” straight people to gain legal rights and protections; that being non-traditional shouldn’t be viewed negatively.

Of course, in David’s case, his anti-marriage stance isn’t just about marriage equality and queer identities. He also has commitment issues and worries about being stuck with the wrong person. In this way, Le Switch becomes more traditional in its rom-com-ness, and decidedly un-queer. David is the play: he thinks he’s so unusual and queer, but deep down, he’s just like any other person who has his issues but just wants to be happy.

There is so much more to say about this play, at least for me – I’m a queer French/English bilingual Canadian who fell in love with an American AND I got married after years of saying pooh-pooh to marriage, so this play felt like it was written expressly for me! On that note, let me tell you that the French accent is pretty darn good, but the French spoken is a little rough -which doesn’t actually matter, since you can easily follow even the untranslated French by context.

The set! The set is so cool, and I’m going to leave it at that since my attempts to describe it couldn’t do it justice. Scenic designer Kate Sutton-Johnson, my hat’s off to you, and also to Barry Browning for the clever lighting design that plays off the set. I usually try to pick one or two actors whose performances were particularly good to mention, but I loved them all so much, so I’m going to list them all: Patrick Bailey is delightfully sassy as David’s surrogate father/roommate Frank, and Emily Gunyou-Halaas is perfect and relatable as David’s sister SarahMichael Wieser is hilarious and has perfect timing as David’s drama llama BFF Zachary, and Michael Hanna is both adorable and sexy as Québécois florist Benoît. Finally, Kasey Mahaffy as David is so convincing that I alternately want to hug him and shake him by the shoulders.

And there you have it: my love letter to Le Switch. Like the last show I saw at the Jungle (the all-female Two Gentlemen of Verona) it’s perhaps not as groundbreaking as it sounds, but it is still entertaining and delightful and worth seeing. It is, for me, the perfect summer play: fun, funny, and sweet, with enough drama to keep me intrigued.

Also, if you find the music during curtain calls catchy, here is the song. You’re welcome.

Le Switch by Philip Dawkins, plays June 17-July 31, 2016 at the Jungle Theater, 2951 Lyndale Ave S, Minneapolis. Tickets are $35-48 at 612-822-7063 or www.jungletheater.com

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