Kheven LaGrone Breaks Age Barrier in New Comedy
by Barry David Horwitz
Kheven LaGrone’s down to earth and funny San Francisco play about being gay in the Bay makes “Group Therapy” a beacon for the many challenges of gay culture.
LaGrone, who lives in Oakland, has his finger on the pulse. “Group Therapy” takes place in 1995 in The City and leads to gay self-realization and community connections. Thanks to John Fisher of Theatre Rhino for bringing LaGrone’s work onstage in the Castro.
Four gay guys and a woman are trying to dodge the bullet of turning 40. Manny, played with wit and charm by Hector Zavala, is a funny flaming queen who always has a clever comeback. He’s always attacking others in the group to feel superior. With a rakish black mustache, multi-talented Zavala plays many roles, including a hilarious Jesus-worshiping Black Mama. If you want to see the funniest gay character ever, stay tuned for Zavala’s Manny, who struggles with gay Latino identity, powerfully and brilliantly.
As Group Facilitator, endearing Josh Alvin revs us up enthusiastically, as he introduces each group member with a wink. They are all facing the oncoming Big Four-Oh.
Sprightly Keisha (bubbly Senait Mengstab) charms us into her San Francisco world of queer men and no straight men. Her biological clock is ticking loudly. She’s beautiful, she’s sexy, she’s available.
Mark Anthony plays the Engineer, a Black man suffering in his dull, detailed job. He tries to escape the office trap because he’s tired of representing “all black men.” Does he have the nerve to escape a soul-crushing job?
Church Deacon (warm-hearted Tory Williams) cannot “decide” if he’s gay or not, torturing himself endlessly. His fearful approach to sex earns him rejection and depression. Can the group help?
James Quedado explodes like a breath of fresh air as an unexpected lover for one of our tortured group members. In a wonderful love scene, he shows lots of sweet love for one of our groupies—as 40 looms. Quedado bursts onstage, bringing hot love. The sex scene will blow your head off. I won’t tell you who his lover is.
In his witty “Group Therapy,” LaGrone uses the almost-40 group to unfold many crises. Manny accepts his gayness and lives with an older dude. The engineer tries to adjust his life. The Church Deacon struggles to become gay. And Keisha’s still a sex bomb.
The Group Facilitator ties them all together as he floats in and out, bringing wit and charm to the episodes. Director Tanika Baptiste has fine tuned the group so each role sings a fresh tune. LaGrone’s stellar comedy has hilarity and insights for everybody!
“Group Therapy” by Kheven LaGrone, directed by Tanika Baptiste, scenic design by Siera Yau, at Theatre Rhinoceros, San Francisco. Info: therhino.org – to December 3, 2023.
Cast: Josh Alvin, Mark Anthony, Senait Mengstab, James Quedado, Tory Williams, and Hector Zavala.
Banner photo: Mark Anthony, Josh Alvin, Tory Williams, Hector Zavala, Senait Mengstab, James Quedado. Photos: Scott Sidorsky