There are at least two pretty good plays, maybe three, in “White Boy,” the seriocomic show appearing through Oct. 22 at Fort Lauderdale’s Empire Stage.
That’s a problem. There are so many ideas, most of them worthy of their own narratives, in this show that it’s kind of like following a thread through an M.C. Escher lithograph. Now, this might work in a movie — and there are times when the script by Michael Patrick Spillers feels cinematic in reach, scope and pace — but on the stage, the thrust of the play gets muddled, diffusing its energy over the two-hour run time (with a 15-minute intermission).
For the balance of that time, and at its center, “White Boy” follows Patrick (Matt DeLuca), a young, gay Midwesterner who falls in love with a presumably straight, street-savvy Chicano named Lobo (Jonathan Cruz) after Patrick moves from small-town Missouri to Los Angeles. Settling into a gritty, Spanish-speaking East L.A. neighborhood, “pigment challenged” Patrick is spectacularly out of place, a fact driven home when he visits a dance club and strikes up a fragile friendship with two go-go boys, Rocco (Noel Martinez) and Wally (Tom Larus). They are somewhat baffled by Patrick. “I have no idea what white people eat,” Wally wonders when Patrick crashes at their home.
That would be enough, but “White Boy” is sort of framed as a show within a show, so we also have Patrick slipping in and out of the action to uncomfortably break the fourth wall and tell the audience about a song he’s working on for a showcase, a beautiful ballad written by DeLuca. That means we get another character, a last-minute fill-in as a stage manager named Junior (Harrison Santana). Junior helps switch the set decorations, but also is inserted in both story lines, both shows, both narratives, layer upon layer, “Inception” style. He even gets his own heartbreaking backstory in a brilliantly delivered monologue. Mind you, all this is welded onto the romance (which might be too flowery a word for their relationship) between Lobo and Patrick.
And yet, whatever Spillers is laboring to say about racial and cultural divides, about the negativity toward gay men coming from Latino machismo, is enervated by trying to say too much. One moment, Patrick wants a “dress-shirt-and-necktie husband,” and the next he bemoans, “when you realize you have no idea how to ask for what you want.” The story ratchets up, and everything feels slightly unearned at the conclusion.
The supporting cast have some difficulty finding the mini machinations and motivations of their characters. A few times, some of them look surprised, and then rather pleased with themselves, when a funny line lands just right with the audience.
That’s the saving grace of “White Boy.” It’s all there, the drama and the comedy, and in the right proportion. The play has its charms, but Spillers has to mercilessly bring it all into sharper focus.
“White Boy” runs through Oct. 22 at Empire Stage, 1140 N. Flagler Drive, in Fort Lauderdale. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, and 5 p.m. Sundays. Tickets cost $35 and $50. To order, call 954-826-8790 or go to RonnieLarsen.com.