A few weeks ago, I worked from home and had daytime TV playing in the background. It had been years since I’ve watched a talk show of any sort — and Maury was on. Now, of course talk shows are tacky and trashy by nature, but I guess having not watched them in so long I was shocked at the ridiculousness on my screen. People ripping off each other’s shirts, spitting on each other, full-out nudity, a morse code of beeps covering up curse words. It was sad, really.
The topic that made up a fateful 1995 episode of The Jenny Jones Show seems almost quaint by comparison: “I Have a Secret Admirer.” Scott Amedure, a 32 year-old gay man from Michigan, confessed on Jones’ show that he had a secret crush on Jonathan Schmitz, a 26 year-old self-identified straight man. Following the show, some things happened, including a possible affair between Schmitz and Amedure, which resulted in Schmitz going nuts and shooting Amedure. Amedure’s family sued Jones, and the matter was settled out of court for $25 million.
Ron Larson uses this tragic series of events as the basis for his unexceptional dark comedy, Sleeping with Straight Men. Aside from a few obvious monologues, a smattering of taudry one-liners by “Stanley” (a stand-in for Amedure, played with sassy gay flair by Timonthy Tintori) and a truly bizarre final surprise, the play really doesn’t do much to elevate the subject matter or even turn it outside-out in a clever enough way so we can laugh at it.
I think the biggest problem is the most interesting person on the stage is Lee, the object of Stanley’s affections. As played by the adorable Bob Skosky, he’s a normal, straight midwestern dude who suddenly finds himself in a foreign situation. We get the sense that maybe Lee has the emotional resources to find a socially acceptable way to handle the situation. But when the show abruptly ends, we still have very little clue why Lee chooses to do what he does. Larson’s short, choppy scenes (accompanied by director Wayne Shaw’s clunky, blackout-heavy transitions) clip along so quickly, we’re left to figure it out on our own.
By focusing the play on Stanley’s hornball desire to bag Lee, Larson misses an opportunity to explore Lee’s (more interesting) side of the story.
That said, Ludicrous Theatre’s production — a Chicago premiere — offers some very commendable performances. Suzanne Bracken as “Jill Johnson” plays a wonderfully condescending talk show host, and Elisa Pope, as her producer, gets the crowd appropriately pumped before the show starts. I was also very impressed by K.D. O’Hair as Lee’s girlfriend. In just a few short scenes, she managed to inject some real life into her severely underdeveloped character — again making me wish Larson had taken the time to honestly explore these people, rather than presenting us sensationalized cutouts.
“Sleeping with Straight Men” plays through June 4 at Ludicrous Theatre the Boho Theatre in Rogers Park. More info here >