Review: Sleeping with Straight Men (Ludicrous Theatre)

     
     

Uneven tone makes theatrical mess

     
     

Timothy Tintorini and Bob Skosky in Ludicrous Theatre's "Sleeping with Straight Men" by Ronnie Larsen.

  
Ludicrous Theatre presents
   
  
Sleeping with Straight Men
   
Written by Ronnie Larsen
Directed by Wayne Shaw
at Heartland Studio, 7016 N. Glenwood (map)
through June 4th  |  tickets: $20  |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker 

Ludicrous Theatre doesn’t seem to understand what it has on its hand with Ronnie Larsen‘s Sleeping with Straight Men. The play, which tells a loosely dramatized version of real-life events, is all over the map. At times, it delights with John Waters odd-ball eccentricity. At other times, it has the weighty seriousness of a Greek tragedy. These unfortunate shifts in tone create a jarring experience that serve to remove the audience from the action of the play, dissolving any hope of immersion. Instead, we are treated to occasional vignettes of good theatre in the midst of a river of mediocrity.

Timothy Tintorini and Bob Skosky in Ludicrous Theatre's "Sleeping with Straight Men" by Ronnie Larsen.The play borrows heavily from the actual events of the infamous “Jenny Jones Show” tragedy of 1995. For those that don’t remember (or have tried hard to forget), Jenny Jones was a popular talk show host who held her own during the saturated television talk show market of the 1990s. As the pressure to win ratings escalated, these talk shows began to amp up their subject matter, exploiting their feeble-minded guests with little sympathy. Eventually, disaster struck. In 1995, openly gay guest Scott Amedure was murdered by straight neighbor Jonathan Schmitz after Amedure confessed in front of a studio audience that he had a crush on Schmitz. Schmitz was later convicted of second-degree murder.

In Sleeping with Straight Men, we meet Stanley (Timothy Tintorini), a small-town homosexual with big, vapid dreams of stardom. Confined to a small Michigan town with a miniscule dating pool, Stanley has made it a habit to seduce straight men. However, his loins get the best of him when he encounters Lee (Bob Skosky), a heterosexual waiter. The two have a brief interaction, which is enough to sweep Stanley off his feet. When he gets word that the Jill Johnson Show is producing a segment about secret crushes, he barely hesitates to call in and volunteer Lee and himself.

Meanwhile, we get a peak into Lee’s life. He not a very likeable individual and suffers quietly in a relationship that lacks any sign of love. Upon finding out from Jill Johnson’s producers that someone has a secret crush on him, he becomes immediately infatuated with the idea of meeting his crush, who he presumes is a woman. He packs his bags and heads out to the taping.

Lee is shocked and humiliated to find out that his secret crush is a man. He begs the producers of the Jill Johnson Show to not air the episode. Knowing they have an instant ratings boost on their hands, the slick-tongued producers do what they can to convince Lee otherwise. Stanley and Lee are then sent back to Michigan, where more secret scandal begins to unfold.

I think it’s telling that cult film star Mink Stole and drag queen Hedda Lettuce were cast in the off-Broadway premier of Sleeping with Straight Men. Obviously Larsen envisioned this show to be a kitschy over-the-top satire. And why not? The talk show circuit was a modern-day freak show.

But in the hands of director Wayne Shaw, the play is just too low-key. With the exception of Tintorini, who is delightfully campy, all performances are down-to-earth. That’s not to say these aren’t good actors. Skosky especially has a strong stage presence and a superb delivery. However, this play isn’t about realness. It’s dark comedy. And without that knowing wink, it’s just a sad tragedy.

Ludicrous Theatre’s production of Sleeping with Straight Men needs a directorial makeover. All the components are here for a good play. The actors can act. The script is solid. But the pieces just don’t add up to a successful comedy. If the director took some time to study the genre and even out the tone, he’d have a comedic hit.

  
  
Rating: ★★
  
  

Timothy Tintorini (Stanley) and Bob Skosky (Lee) in Ludicrous Theatre's "Sleeping with Straight Men" by Ronnie Larsen.

  

   

Continue reading

REVIEW: Equus (Ludicrous Theatre)

Ludicrous horses around with modern classic

 

Eqqus - Ludicrous Theatre - poster

    
Ludicrous Theatre presents
   
Equus
   
Written by Peter Shaffer
Directed by
Wayne Shaw
at
Heartland Studio, 7016 N. Glenwood (map)
through November 6th  |  tickets: $15   |  more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

Probably my favorite aspect of Peter Shaffer’s 1976 psychological mindbender Equus is the hodgepodge of a religion he creates, one that cherry picks Christian themes and collides them with children books and commercial jingles. And horses, of course. Alan Strang, the head priest and sole member of Shaffer’s cult, creates a faith from everything that surrounds him. In particular, I love the word Alan gives the sacred riding bit, “chinkle-chankle,” and the devout seriousness in which he utters the babyish term. While usually goofy and occasionally unsettling, Alan’s horse-worship serves as a jumping-off point for a quest for spirituality in our modern world. After seeing any production of Equus, Shaffer’s views leave me rattled. Ludicrous Theatre’s production understands the play, but director Wayne Shaw is unable to effectively communicate the drama’s full power.

100_0604In a bold attempt to make the play seem more relevant, Ludicrous’ big “twist” on the script is changing Shaffer’s Southern English countryside setting to an area a few miles outside of Reno, Nevada. There’s at least one Sarah Palin t-shirt and several large belt buckles. The changes pretty much stop there. One wonders if Alan’s father Frank, who is described as “an old time socialist,” would be readily found in such an environment. In the end, the new take doesn’t really do much damage or enlightenment. Shaw and his cast have much bigger issues to worry about, anyway.

Buried in Ludicrous’ mission statement is the desire to explore the spiritual and the sexual on-stage. Equus provides plenty of fodder for both. I don’t know if I have every seen more balls on display for longer periods of time, and I’m not sure if I ever will. For most of the two-and-a-half hour piece, Justin Landry stands upstage completely naked besides a wire contraption shaped like a horse’s head. Shaw gets his Alan, Ian McCabe, nude as often as he possibly can. The nudity is interesting in certain respects (horses are naked, after all). It becomes over-the-top and cringe-worthy in several spots—especially when Alan is actively recounting his arousing experience riding Nugget (Landry). We end up with something that looks an awful lot like anal sex, but really awkward.

Staging in general is a weak point of Shaw’s. The production doesn’t really know how to handle the more abstract moments, such as when Alan recounts his first ride on a horse. A lot of the movement is unmotivated as well. There’s an old-time film noir feel to the acting—the cast pushes at the melodrama whenever they can, standing up just to sit back down, moving across the stage to signal distress or deep thought, etc.

 

100_0605 100_0602
100_0607 100_0608

Kevin Heller is miscast as Dysart, Alan’s psychologist and spinner of this yarn. In voice and appearance Heller comes off as far too young. Conversely, McCabe comes off way too old. They change his age to 20 from the scripted 17, but this leads to more questions. Part of what makes Shaffer’s play so gripping is the fact that Alan is so young; place the character a few years older, and you wonder why no one found his antics strange, or how a kid who can barely read graduated high school.

There is a (most likely unintentional) brilliance in Heller’s casting. His Dysart is wooden, boring, and clinical. While not great acting, it brought to mind the thematic clash at the heart of the story, begrudging acceptance of mediocrity vs. explosive spiritual awakening.

This sort of accidental freshness pervades the whole production. The over-the-top style and uneven acting ability somehow still showcases the play, much more than the imposed alterations. McCabe manages to nail Alan’s flailing mysticism, a crucial requirement. This is by no means the definitive Equus (it’s not even the best storefront Equus this year—Red Twist had a much better handle), yet, at the end of the night, you will leave meditating on what divides the holy from the unholy in this world.

   
   
Rating: ★★
   
   

Ludicrous Theatre's Equus Cast

CAST: Kevin Heller as Martin Dysart, Ian McCabe as Alan Strang, Robert Dean Wells as Frank Strang, Elizabeth “Missy” Styles as Dora Strang, Suzanne Bracken as Hester Salomon, Kristen Bjorge as Jill Mason, Josh Becker as Harry Dalton, Justin Landry as Nugget and Amy Gray as Nurse.