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THEATER REVIEW: “Doctor Anonymous” at Zephyr Theatre

“I am a homosexual. I am a psychiatrist.” -- Dr. John E. Fryer

Today that opening gambit wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. But in 1972, when Dr. Fryer spoke at the convention of the American Psychiatric Association, the admission was so dangerous to his career that he wore a grotesque mask and used a voice-altering microphone so as not to be recognized.

Fryer’s speech was the first salvo in the crusade to remove homosexuality from the “mental illness” category in the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.”

Zephyr Theatre presents the fictionalized story of what led up to that historic speech in the world premiere of Guy Frederick Glass’ fascinating “Doctor Anonymous,” playing through May 4.

The play opens in Philadelphia in 1968, where in a prologue Dr. Matthew Goldstein (Matt Crabtree) is interviewed for post-graduate study in psychoanalysis by Dr. Edward Bergman (Barry Pearl). Bergman asks some questions one would not expect: “Verdi or Puccini?” “Do you watch ‘Laugh-In’?” and the real one: “Do you have a girlfriend?”

Matthew is not accepted for that program, but Edward offers him another alternative: conversion therapy. He takes that offer, though he leaves before finishing the program.

The rest of the play takes place in 1971-72 where, against a background of projected film clips of gay rights demonstrations, police brutality, TV shows and political speeches, Matthew tries to juggle his professional life (much of which consists of counseling other gays) and the personal life with boyfriend Jake (Kevin Held) that he must hide.

Crabtree gives a heart-wrenching portrayal of a soul divided, increasingly unable to show who he is. He is brilliantly backed up by Held’s loving but more and more confused Jake.

Matthew’s life is further complicated by other friends: John (Christopher Frontiero), flamboyant opera queen extraordinaire, another gay psychiatrist who has decided to pay the price and work in less prestigious places.

Jonathan Torres plays Andrew, young, cute and a gay activist who tries to get Matthew involved in the movement to deny Frank Rizzo (who as police commissioner conducted weekly round-ups of homosexuals) the mayor’s office.

And Dudek (Richard Sabine), a leather-jacketed self-hating gay with an assertive personality who takes over the stage whenever he’s on it.

This isn’t dry social history; it’s a collection of short, engaging scenes wonderfully written by Glass (who grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs) and well paced by Director John Henry Davis.

Credit Troy Hauschild for the terrific montage of film clips, and Shannon Kennedy for the period-appropriate costumes. Joel Daavid’s set is certainly versatile, as it must be. My only minor cavil is that the short scene length necessitates a lot of furniture-moving by the cast.

California and New Jersey are the only states so far to ban gay conversion therapy, but it’s being considered in several others. In 1974 the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses.

“Doctor Anonymous” recounts an important piece of U.S. social history and should be widely seen. Don’t miss this production.

The details

“Doctor Anonymous” plays through May 4 at Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles.

Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 7 pm.

Tickets: (323) 960-7724 or HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.