The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me


                  When adapting one literary form into another, a screenwriter and a director face innumerable
          challenges. How faithful to the original source material should they remain? What changes are
          permissible? Will those alterations alienate the core audience? When the primary material is a
          one-person play, there are even more hurdles. What often works well before a live audience falls
          flat or is denuded by the presence of a camera, especially when blown up for the big screen. The
          intimacy that can be achieved on television or in a videotaped performance is often lost. Then
          there is the issue of whether to film before a live audience or not. Sometimes it can work, but
          more often it doesn't.

                  As early as 1990, openly gay actor David Drake began to develop what became his 1992
          award-winning Off-Broadway play
THE NIGHT LARRY KRAMER KISSED ME. A
          semi-autobiographical series of vignettes, the show went on to be popular worldwide. The
          provocative title was not so much a literal smooch as a metaphorical one -- Drake recounted his
          experience attending Kramer's 1985 AIDS-themed stage play
THE NORMAL HEART (For
          those who may not know, Kramer is a respected novelist (
FAGGOTS), screenwriter
          (
WOMEN IN LOVE), playwright (THE DESTINY OF ME) and activist (founder of both
          the Gay Men's Health Crisis and ACT UP). The autobiographical
THE NORMAL HEART was
          one of the theater's first major responses to the AIDS epidemic among gay men.

                  Drake, a slender, attractive blond, recounts how attending a performance of that seminal work
          altered his life, made him more politically aware and inspired him to branch into writing. Over the
          course of the other segments, he speaks of other important events in his life. On his sixth birthday
          -- June 29, 1969 -- unbeknownst to him, the Stonewall riots occurred. Ten years later, he has his        
          first "date" when a well-liked school jock goes to see
A CHORUS LINE with him and they
          bond over that musical's famous monologue by the gay dancer Paul. Other pieces -- which vary
          in quality -- cover "why I go to the gym," personal ads and the bar scene. On stage, several of
          these played well enough. The repetition of some of the lines was less noticeable in the theater
          but on film the flaws are magnified. The roving, kinetic direction of Tim Kirkman (who explored
          his own background in the gemlike documentary
DEAR JESSE) undercuts much of the
          material. Kirkman tries to keep things interesting but at times the marriage of theater and film
          simply doesn't fit. The movie was shot during live performances and the audience reactions often
          filter through as a bad laugh track. Also, some of the sequences just go on too long. Judicious
          editing might have helped.

                  Drake does score with one of the last monologues, a touching tribute to friends and lovers who
          have died of AIDS. "Where did you go?" is the refrain as Drake lights a taper honoring each of
          the men he knew. The powerful writing transcends the confines of the filmed play and left several
          people near tears. If the film and play had ended on this note, it would have been exemplary but
          Drake pushed matters by incorporating one last speech. In the original production, it was a
          futuristic (1999!) look at gay life. For the film, he has pushed it to 2013. Either way, it was not as
          funny as he thought and left a sour taste coming on the heels of such a moving tribute.

                  The choice of filming this one-person play was perhaps ill-advised. On stage, Drake exuded
          passion and charisma; on screen, he sometimes appears cloying and imprecise. These theatrical
          events often fail to translate well to feature films (only James Whitmore in
GIVE 'EM HELL, HARRY
          seems to have had any success). I suspect, however, that video rentals and annual screenings
          during June (Gay Pride Month) will enhance the reputation of
THE NIGHT LARRY KRAMER
          KISSED ME.
.


                                                          Rating:                C+
© 2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.