In 1972, Philadelphia is a city on the edge. Police commissioner Frank Rizzo, well-known for his antagonistic attitude against homosexuals, is on the verge of being elected mayor. Meanwhile, the American Psychiatric Association, which still lists homosexuality as a mental illness, is gearing up for its annual convention in town. In the midst of it all, young psychiatrist Matthew (Matt Crabtree) is struggling with his own issues — he’s gay and fearful that his secret will be discovered.
Matthew has a lover, gay activist Jake (Kevin Held), whom he only dares to meet in private, and a best friend, the flamboyant, opera-loving John (Christopher Frontiero), whom he’s pushing away for fear of being found out. Another doctor, Edward (Barry Pearl), who recognizes his “symptoms,” convinces him to undergo conversion therapy, but Matthew realizes that there’s no escaping who he is. And when tragedy strikes, it motivates him to take a stand in the most public way possible.
Based on the true story of Dr. John Fryer, the Philadelphia psychiatrist who bravely came out at the Association’s Philadelphia conference in 1972, Doctor Anonymous is a well-intentioned piece that suffers from a too-episodic structure whose scenes don’t always fit together smoothly.
Crabtree does fairly well as the conflicted Matthew, while Held shows some backbone as the defiant Jake. In marked contrast to the closeted psychiatrist, Frontiero and Jonathan Torres wear their flamboyant sexuality proudly. Richard Sabine makes the most of his scenes as Matt’s self-loathing, hot-tempered patient, Dudek, and Barry Pearl gives the most assured performance as Edward, the seemingly well-intentioned shrink who reveals himself to be an egotistical manipulator.
But playwright Guy Fredrick Glass’s uneven, episodic construction makes it challenging to follow the progression of the story, particularly when it comes to Matthew and Dudek. It can be argued that the piece was designed that way to depict their ever-changing attitudes toward their sexuality, but scenes fly by with such rapidity that the characters seem to be suffering from schizophrenia.
Joel Daavid’s spare set and lighting design is fine, and Troy Hauschild’s projection design, consisting of vintage television clips and archival footage, helps to establish the mood of the times, including clips of Rizzo himself, homosexual “scare” films and insensitive jokes from the Laugh-In television show. John Henry Davis directs the action competently, but it’s tough to avoid choppiness in a work that consists of so many splintered segments.
That said, it’s still valuable as a piece of history for younger gay audiences who may not be aware that their predecessors lived in such difficult times. Doctor Anonymous plays Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 7 p.m. through May 4 at the Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles. Reservations can be made online or by calling (323) 960-7724.