The basic premise is elementary in the extreme but holds some promise. It's 1990, and Bush senior is president. Middle-aged gay Bud has been bankrupted by the tripled rent on his NYC candle shop and is forced to move in with his straight sister, Sis (we don't even know if she has a real name), and brother-in-law, Bill, in the generic Middle American town of Flatwater. Bud is liberal in the extreme and protested against the Vietnam War as a young man. Bill is a retired career army officer and Vietnam veteran who starts all of his sentences with "Shit" and spends most of his time listening to right-wing radio. Sis, a cosmetics saleswoman, is the breadwinner of the family, engages in a passive-aggressive war with her spouse, and spends most of her time reading true-crime books about how women have killed their husbands.
It doesn't take long for a dramatic pattern to emerge that repeats itself endlessly throughout the play's mercifully short 90 minutes. Bill spouts the latest talking points from his radio hero Bash Rambo (read Rush Limbaugh), Bud futilely attempts to contradict Bill with logical argument, and Sis sits in the kitchen reading and smoking. Toward the end, Bill suddenly softens for no clear reason and actually gets along with Bud, until there is a climactic verbal joust over the actor-activist Jane Fonda. Bill finally admits that America's involvement in Vietnam was wrong but is still furious with Fonda for crossing enemy lines during the war. Bud tries to persuade his brother-in-law to bury the past and acknowledge common ground across the political spectrum. The two end up as idealistically opposed as ever, but Bud gains insight into Bill's character when, in a touching monologue, Sis reveals that she had left Bill for a fortune teller, and he took her back after her lover died, never reproaching her for the affair.
That final speech is simply and feelingly delivered by Sara Ann Parker and is the show's highpoint. Parker obviously has given some thought to Sis' motives, history, and goals, while Kevin Huelbig, as Bill, focuses on indicating emotion and struggling to recall his many lines. James Martinelli is only slightly better than Huelbig at conveying intentions. He's been given the clumsy dramatic device of narrating the action through Bud's letters to friends and achieves a degree of verisimilitude but can't overcome the narrowness of his role.
If the whole play had been as layered and complex as that lovely climactic speech—instead of shallow phrases shouted by sitcom figures—"Heterosexuals" could have been an incisive portrait of families divided over public discourse.
Self-presented as part of the Fresh Fruit Festival at the Wild Project, 195 E. Third St., NYC. July 19–29. Remaining performances: Sun., July 22, 8 p.m.; Sun., July 29, noon. (212) 352-3101, (866) 811-4111, www.theatermania.com, or www.freshfruitfestival.com.