Any play that starts with a shirtless man strapped to a bed has my attention. Hidden Man recounts the real life friendship of artists Robert Sherer and his mentor Reverend Howard Finster and how their friendship transcended age, sexuality and time.
As I entered the theater, I was intrigued by the raggedly overgrown world created by set designer Austin K. Butler. It was heavy and enclosed with hints of color shining through. The depiction of Howard Finster’s “Paradise Garden,” was visually created by an amazing sculpture of bicycle parts. This large piece of art helped anchor the space and give weight to the serious tone of the play.
As for the production, director Del Hamilton effectively brings this unlikely friendship to life in an honest and thoughtful way. He takes larger than life characters and makes the audience want to know their stories. I wanted to know where they had been, and I wanted to know where they were going. Throughout the production, I sat on the edge of my seat waiting to see if Sherer would stop and crack into a million pieces or forge ahead in glory. Even the Reverend, who was wise and strong in his beliefs, was not glorified as some prophet. He was played by George Contini with humbled grace. He was just as human as the other characters and learned from them as they learned from him.
University of Georgia junior Malcolm Campbell-Taylor plays the title role of Sherer. Campbell uses his entire body to play this character of a tortured artist. With his shoulders hunched forward and his chin high, Campbell-Taylor delivers a compellingly raw performance. I wanted to not like his character, but I simply could not hold back my desire to see him succeed. He was self-destructive, cocky, rude and desperate but it was that desperation that helped take a seemingly flat character and turn him into a three dimensional person that I rooted for.
Hidden Man is a wonderfully simple and thoughtful play. There are no big pyrotechnics, just pure storytelling. There are beautiful pauses that allow the viewer to take it all in. From the complexities of the actors’ body language to the angles of the male form, Hidden Man offers a compelling message of acceptance. The play gives hope to us all in the gay community by showing that tolerance always wins. It shows that everyone does deserve a second chance ultimately promoting love for ourselves and everyone else.
“Hidden Man is a co-production between 7 Stages and the University of Georgia at 7 Stages theater from March 8-25. Click here to purchase tickets.