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By MARK BLANKENSHIP
Most of us have had an identity crisis, but it probably hasn't resulted in an edgy musical about naughty gay sex. That's exactly the outcome, however, in It Must Be Him, Kenny Solms' new comedy about a once-beloved television writer who is desperately trying to recapture his professional mojo while he navigates his love life.
Late in this madcap comedy, the writer, Louie, tries to make himself seem young and fresh by writing the aforementioned tuner, which gets a disastrous staging while he's also trying to navigate an affair with a much younger man.
For Solms, the sheer inappropriateness is the point. "I love those lyrics [which were contributed by Ryan Cunningham] and I love the wildness of it," he says. "It makes me say, 'Oh, Louie is having a nervous breakdown.' He thinks if he gets very dark, it makes him more interesting, even though he isn't very dark."
That's a pressure Solms understands. In the sixties and seventies, he was a writer for The Carol Burnett Show, which earned him three Emmy nominations, yet much like Louie, he has found himself rootless in the contemporary television landscape. "They don't hire people over thirty," he says. "It's funny how the theatre welcomes age, and television discourages it."
Obviously, then, there's an autobiographical element in his play's barbed jokes about the entertainment business and in its zany cast of agents, writers, and hangers-on. Even when scenes go over-the-top, they're written with the specificity of someone who has lived in the Hollywood jungle.
But the play's battle between "what you want" and "what you think you want" extends beyond Hollywood. Louie perpetually chases young and silly men, despite the fact that none of them are mature enough to give him the partnership he craves.
That plot point required a deeper kind of soul-searching, and it still makes Solms nervous.
"I'm a little self-conscious walking into the theatre," he says. "I almost divulge everything. My high school friends from Philadelphia are coming, and I'm wondering, 'What's their reaction going to be?'"
He adds, "I could never have written this when my parents were alive. I couldn't confront the gay issue. That generation just didn't talk about it. But being able to do it now has been very freeing."
Granted, Solms' life hasn't been nearly as outré as Louie's, and he hasn't quite found the happy ending that's suggested in the final scene of the play. But even if he's exaggerating his experiences, he hopes they still feel resonant for people who know him. And for people who don't.
"Hopefully, this will say to anyone that it's okay to be yourself," he says. "Basically, 'Grow up.' It's the sort of thing I should've started saying to myself a long time ago."
Mark Blankenship is TDF's online content editor