Har­vey Milk’s work con­tin­ues

Los Angeles Times - - Theater - — F. Kath­leen Fo­ley

Some 30-plus years af­ter his death, Har­vey Milk, the first openly gay elected pub­lic of­fi­cial in Cal­i­for­nia, con­tin­ues to fo­cus the pub­lic’s fas­ci­na­tion — and ou­trage. Pa­tri­cia Loughrey’s “Dear Har­vey,” pre­sented by the Beat Project at the Lee Stras­berg The­atre, fleshes out the larger-than-life di­men­sions of its flawed, quirky, pas­sion­ate sub­ject, whose 1978 murder served as a flash point for the bur­geon­ing gay rights move­ment.

More aus­tere and rig­or­ously his­tor­i­cal than the Os­car-win­ning 2008 film “Milk,” which won Sean Penn an Os­car in the ti­tle role, “Dear Har­vey” has been drawn en­tirely from in­ter­views with Milk’s clos­est friends and col­leagues, archival ma­te­ri­als and Milk’s own writ­ten words.

The var­i­ous mono­logues are linked by a nar­ra­tor (Laura Sanzo), who in­tones the whos, whys and where­fores of Milk’s life and trag­i­cally short po­lit­i­cal ca­reer. That de­vice is a bit clunky, but the piece is oth­er­wise well con­structed and im­pres­sively sim­ple. So too is An­thony Frisina’s stag­ing — or at least, it will be, given a bit more air­ing. At present, it’s dif­fi­cult to as­cer­tain whether cer­tain ac­tors, most par­tic­u­larly John Meeks’ Milk, are grop­ing for sub­texts — or lines.

Thomas Hodges’ lush orig­i­nal mu­sic, per­formed live by Joe Sy­mon on pi­ano and Jyvonne Haskin on cello, sets an ap­pro­pri­ately ele­giac tone.

The cast yanks its fair share of tears, none of them forced. As Cleve Jones, the orig­i­na­tor of the AIDS quilt, Clif­ford Baña­gale gives a spec­tac­u­larly grip­ping ac­count of the quilt’s ge­n­e­sis. Vash Bod­die also shines as Milk’s drag queen friend and sup­porter.

The stand­out turn of the evening, how­ever, is Heidi Sultz­man as Milk’s young cam­paign co­or­di­na­tor, whose dry rem­i­nis­cence builds into raw grief.

“Dear Har­vey,” Lee Stras­berg The­atre, 7936 Santa Mon­ica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thurs­days-Satur­days, 2 p.m. Sun­days. Ends Oct. 10. $20. (323) 960-7782. www .plays411.com/dearhar­vey. Run­ning time: 1 hour, 15 min­utes.

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