“That’s the nice thing about being gay — we don’t have to be trapped by monogamy.” This line is said more than once in Joe DiPietro’s raw play, F*cking Men, which observes the sex lives of “the modern urban gay American male” (the press notes’ wording — not mine).
Having been in a relationship for nearly 11 years, I can’t help but wince when I hear lines like this. To me, it perpetuates the tired stereotype of the bar-focused gay culture. But, the play is a “noir-riff” on Arthur Schnitzler’s famously groundbreaking 1900 play, La Ronde, which examines the sex lives of various classes through pairs of encounters. In other words, fleeting sexcapades come with the territory. So, I must move past my personal feelings and search for a deeper meaning.
DiPietro’s script is darkly funny and smart, with flashes of humanity. This is a story about lost people looking for acceptance. While they are searching, their paths lead to sex in a park, in a broom closet, on a kitchen table, in a dorm room with an escort, a soldier, a graduate student, a playwright, a porn star (not necessarily in that order). The irony (or the tragedy) is while sex is the most intimate thing a couple can do together, these encounters are void of connection. Love, respect and relationships are desired, but for now – you’ll do. So bend over. As the escort says to the nervous soldier: “Relax — it’s just you and me, in the dark, taking care of business.”
Business. Sex in DiPietro’s play is viewed as a negotiation. A matter-of-fact making for a one night stand. But what if that stand lasts beyond just one night? It’s when the play asks that question that things start to get interesting.
This play is heavily reliant on a strong 10-person ensemble cast, and luckily there’s not a weak link. So to call out one performance would pull focus from the other nine. And director Tom Mullen moves the action along with great fluidity, complementing the interconnected nature of the piece. (And he manages to get that bed on and off the stage with more elegance than Actors Theatre Company’s production of that hetero-happy musical, Baby, which just finished its run next door at Stage 773.)
However, a misstep for me is the original music by Laurence Mark Wythe. Not only does it fail to fit the tone of the show, it begins to play (quite loudly) during some of the more emotionally resonant moments, drawing focus.
As the first fully staged production for the new Bailiwick Chicago theatre company, this is a brave and bold debut, produced for the most part with nuance and style. It’s also a sexy show for the summer — one that will cater well to the Boystown set. But, hopefully, we can expand our thinking about what makes a “modern, urban gay American male.”
“F*cking Men” plays through July 25 at Theatre Building Chicago/Stage 773. More information here>