Manhattan and The Bronx sit side by side in New York City, separated only by the Harlem River, but as we see in writer/director Alan Baxter’s new stage drama Juan And Emmett, sometimes the gulf between the boroughs can be a chasm as wide and forbidding as the Grand Canyon. Set in 2007, the play tells the story of corporate law-firm partner Emmett Watson (Charles Baran), a beleaguered, closeted, middle-aged, wealthy white man.
The mild-mannered Emmett is beset with pressures from a spoiled, money-grubbing son (Trevor Crane), an overbearing wife (Joanna Bokovitz) and a desperate need to satisfy his true sexuality. When wife Linda hits the road on a book tour, Emmett steals away to a gay club, where he meets the streetwise, tough, “gay-for-pay” Juan Ortega (Ricardo Manigat). Plying the young Bronx student with promises of ready cash, Emmett brings Juan into his palatial Park Avenue apartment, and there the story begins to roll.
Juan’s streetside mannerisms and often coarse language are in stark contrast to Emmett’s soft, pleading entreaties for more intimacy with the strapping collegian. Juan has pressures of his own, juggling a strung-out roommate (Raf Liriano) and a girlfriend (Anissa Nunez) who wants Juan to stop his hustling ways. There is tension all around as Baxter’s characters struggle with their identities, needs, and the strictures of their respective environments.
In a sometimes gritty, sometimes disturbing story arc, Emmett becomes enamored of Juan, willing to lavish his erstwhile bedmate with gifts material and financial, to satisfy his sexual needs. There’s a dark climax, and some issues stay unresolved, but overall, Baxter does a good job of shining some light on what happens when the wealthy use their power and privilege to meet their needs.
There’s a tempest brewing in Juan And Emmett, with the visually stunning Manigat, and Baran’s tense depiction of the powerful but vulnerable Emmett are enhanced by a strong supporting cast, including Armando Ramirez and Lamar Moye. The play’s final performance is this Saturday, October 27, at The Producers Club, 358 W. 44th Street in Times Square. Tickets are $18.