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.

  

   

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REVIEW: Lower Debt (Livewire Chicago Theatre)

Down in the dumps..

Lower Debt_photo by Sebastian Aguirre_7

Livewire Chicago presents:

Lower Debt

 

written by Joshua Aaron Weinstein
directed by
Rebekah Scallet
at the Viaduct Theatre, 3111 N. Western Ave.
through April 4th
(more info)

by Keith Ecker 

As has been pointed out by many smarter than me, it is worse to be the recipient of apathy than the target of hatred. That said, I don’t hate LiveWire Chicago Theatre’s  world premier production of Lower Debt. No, instead I just couldn’t care less about it, Lower Debt_photo by Sebastian Aguirre_5and it appeared that neither did anyone in the play. And this is supposed to be an “Everyman” tale?

The play’s got a solid synopsis. I’ll give it that. It’s set in the beginning of the 21st century, resembling a time that is as economically uncertain as present day but personal suffering is considerably worse, where a house is a tent tucked away in an abandoned building. CW (Brian P. Cicirello) is a copywriter at an ad firm. As we learn through video flashbacks, CW is laid off and left to simultaneously sell a screenplay and beg for change on the street, which we see in a scene where CW rambles to himself about pennies and dimes. The clip is so pregnant with self-importance I found myself rolling my eyes at the screen.

Eventually CW appears on stage in the tent town that nomadic bums Claude (Malcolm Callan), his wife Val (Melissa diLeonardo) and her sister Wendell (Annie Rix) have established. Claude is a bossy, hot-headed man who is protective of his property. He’s not hesitant to hit or push CW, which he does frequently. Meanwhile, Wendell takes a liking to CW, a feeling that is reciprocated. We know this because CW tells Wendell in hushed whispers that she doesn’t have to stay in Claude’s compound. It is a cliché love.

The tent town is also inhabited by a pill-pushing self-described pharmacist named Ames (Tamara Anderson), a kind-hearted cab driver named Rash (Josh Johnson), his dying lover Leah (Miriam Reuter) and a bum (Noah Lepawsky) whose periodic slips into existential ponderings are about as deep as Jack Handy’s “Deep Thoughts”.

Nothing much really happens throughout the play. A lot of people look angry at one another and walk from tent to tent. Alcohol is drunk. People occasionally leave the compound and then come back. Near the end of the play, there’s a twist, one that will jerk you awake because it involves a gun. But don’t get too excited. It’s laughably convoluted.

There’s little to no characterization. We as the audience don’t get to know any of these people. When some die, we just kind of shrug it off. Sure, there’s plenty of exposition about what life used to be like and who we all used to be before things went to hell. But it’s all talk and no action.

Lower Debt_photo by Sebastian Aguirre_2 Lower Debt_LiveWire_1
Lower Debt_photo by Sebastian Aguirre_6 Lower Debt_photo by Sebastian Aguirre_3

Speaking of talk, the dialogue in Lower Debt is atrocious. It plays like a transcribed conversation between high school stoners. The playwright, Joshua Aaron Weinstein (aka LiveWire’s Executive Director), obviously wants to tackle some big-picture concepts, but needs to learn to do it with more finesse. You can discuss life, death, society and materialism in a play, but you have to find some way to interweave it into interesting characters and plot. Otherwise it just sits there for everyone to stare at like a pet stain.

With no characterization and clunky speech, it is difficult to place much blame on the actors for their lackluster performances. They aren’t bad – just flat. Glenn Proud stands out the most as Claude’s cop brother, Damon, probably because he’s one of the only characters who doesn’t talk like a freshman philosophy major.

The use of video, which is completely dropped in the second half of the play, serves little purpose. The clips provide flashback about CW, but a clever director could just as easily stage these scenes with much greater effect. Also, the audio on the video is too low. Though sitting in the front row, I still had a very difficult time hearing. Hopefully this is just a technical sound issue with an easy fix.

Lower Debt is meant to be a commentary on contemporary times, exploring themes of community, ownership, loss and hope. But without interesting characters or a solid story to ground these lofty topics, the picture gets fuzzy and the audience’s attention spans and patience are tested.

 

Rating:

 

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