It's usually not a good thing when an audience is laughing during a serious part of dialogue, but in Le Switch the funny lines and the ones that make your heart jump into your throat sometimes alternate so rapidly that it's hard for your face to keep up. Philip Dawkins' romantic comedy is an impressive achievement, all the more so because it also manages to cast its eye over half a century of emotional history with a generation-spanning cast of gay characters.
The play, now being given its world premiere by Jungle Theater, has two acts that take place in 2012 and 2014: years when same-sex marriage was becoming legal across the United States with a rapidity that was exhilarating, but also disorienting for someone like 35-year-old David (Kasey Mahaffy), who grew up feeling that his attraction to men was "different" and that different was not necessarily good.
Having embraced what he sees as a counter-cultural identity, it's hard for David to gamely play along when his longtime friend Zachary (Michael Wieser) asks David to be the best man at his wedding. Why embrace conventions, David asks, when conventions have taken so long to embrace you? His personal commitment to legal bachelorhood, however, is put to the test when he meets Benoît (Michael Hanna), a 23-year-old Québécois whose relationship to marriage is much less complicated: He wants it.
Overlapping with Twin Cities Pride, this production of Le Switch couldn't be more perfectly timed: It's a celebration, but it's also sensitive to generational texture among gay men living through epochal shifts in their community. For 57-year-old Frank (a dry Patrick Bailey), a father figure to David, marriage was never an option. David's twin sister Sarah (Emily Gunyou Halaas) has her own unusual marriage, but she's most important here as a connection to David's painful youth in the "don't ask, don't tell" 1990s.
Though Le Switch ultimately encompasses some heavy subjects — doing so with insight, and genuine emotional pull — it also has a consistent lightness of touch, at times bordering on frothiness. Dawkins and this confident cast keep the laughs coming even as the plot's momentum takes hold. At a brunch scene, for example, that takes place the morning after Zachary's bachelor party: "This is what equality looks like," quips the near-catatonic groom as he gestures at his outrageous pink outfit. Then, he tells his friend to call a cab and get the hell back to Benoît, the alluring florist David just met but stayed out all night with.
Director Jeremy B. Cohen keeps a sure hand on the proceedings, as Kate Sutton-Johnson's set does its damnedest to keep up with the rapid changes of scene: The walls literally spin as characters whisk back and forth between New York and Montreal. Cohen is also producing artistic director at the Playwrights' Center, which helped birth Le Switch; this superb production inaugurates a new partnership between that organization and the Jungle, and augurs well for what's to come.