Chicago Theater Review: FUCKING MEN (Pride Films and Plays at the Pride Arts Center)

by Lawrence Bommer on July 9, 2018

in Theater-Chicago

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SERIAL SEX AS A CONTINUUM OF DESIRE

There’s not much to learn from Fucking Men —  an unabashed sexual merry-go-round and a late-night offering from Pride Films & Plays — but there’s a lot to like about it. Tony winner Joe DiPietro (creator of the musical Memphis) based his romp on 19th-century Austrian playwright Arthur Schnitzler’s much-imitated 1897 Der Reigen (in French, La Ronde), which has itself been adapted dozens of times since its scandalous censor-banning beginnings in 1897 (David Hare’s drama The Blue Room, the film 360, the musical Hello Again, et al.).

This ten-scene cavalcade proves perfect proof that the gay world is very much a vertical, not a horizontal, community: Sex, its defining force, cuts through — and connects — every possible socioeconomic class, political leaning, religion, race, temperament and condition. Sexually active folks (I prefer to call them “busy bodies”) are never more than “ten degrees of separation” apart (the play ends with the cast chanting the obvious: “You meet someone else”). As E.M. Forster said (and sometimes did), “Only connect.” In any case it’s all about sex, which the French wisely call “the little death.” But then sex is all about life and even love.

There are ten entries in this chain letter of passion: That’s the number of same-sex partners linked in round-robin fashion as one partner from each scene moves on to make love (or whoopee) with a new one in the next scene. These recyclers of romance reflect some very familiar challenges that arise in all relationships, from one-night stands (like most here) to committed connections — crises of confidence, self-image, trust, fidelity, fantasy: Are you imagining someone else when you’re getting off on a surrogate body? Can love be rented by the hour? Does monogamy mean missing out on the rides of a lifetime? Why do closet cases want to hurt the one they (just) loved? How does the love that dare not say its name manage to make so much noise?

The men who fuck and are fucked begin with an escort/hustler (sensuous Whitman Johnson) who finds sudden security with a soldier (sturdy Luke Halpern), a fighter who finds forgiveness a lot more enduring a benefit than a blow job. In turn the macho soldier beds a troubled graduate student (charming Kumar Rohit) who fears he’s alienated the love of his life (offstage, alas). He finds a saving distraction from a cocky, pothead college kid (bumptious Conor McGarry) who must learn that too much of a good thing is just that.

The kid moves on to a married guy (Matt Frye, complexly conflicted) who returns to his spouse (burly Jay Espano) to worry whether love can survive the cessation of sex. Without immediately disclosing his HIV status, he finds solace with a kind-hearted porn star (lustful Roy Samra) who, predictably not uptight about gratification, does not insist that life imitates art (or, in this case, sex copy celluloid). This sweet stud gets caught up in the neuroses of a very insecure playwright (Lars Ebsworth, not altogether convincing in the role as written) who in turn threatens to out an Oscar-winning actor (Alex Lacobucci, not playing Kevin Spacey) who then decides to come out to another closet case, TV journalist Donald (Nick Schrier), thereby ending his film career. (Some things refuse to change from Schnitzler’s era to ours.)

Many of the revelations in this sexual tragicomedy are either glib or clichéd and, human nature being what it is, inevitably not that original or different from Schnitzler’s enduring inventory. Shakespeare, as usual, said it best: “The course of true love never did run smooth.” (That applies equally to brief sex and paid nookie.)

What redeems this 90-minute venture, performed a bit clumsily on the set of Circle Theatre’s The View Upstairs, is the sincerity of director David Zak’s cast, ten actors who, in a play this insistent, will clearly never need to wonder about their motivation. What distinguishes this revival from the show’s Chicago premiere in 2010 by Bailiwick Chicago is the cunning insertion of dance sequences between the couplings: Choreographers Jake Ganzer, James William Mueller, Daniel Hurst and Katelyn Stoss (as well as fight choreographer Grant Brown) signal each scene’s emotional freight by the magic of movement.

More than a depiction of serial promiscuity, Fucking Men is also more than its too-generic title (which, depending on how you read it, could be both a gerund noun and an epithet). It offers a cross-section of a community that’s inevitably linked by more than sex because fornication is never as simple as it’s short.

photos by Paul Goyette

Fucking Men
Pride Films and Plays
Pride Arts Center – The Broadway, 4139 N. Broadway
Fri and Sat at 11; Sun at 8
ends on August 25, 2018
for tickets, call 773.857.0222 or visit Pride Films and Plays

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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