Chicago Theatre Review
Confessions of a Bug Chaser
Animals Commit Suicide – First Floor Theatre
J. Julian Christopher has written a play that shocks and frightens, providing a springboard for discussing a sexual practice unknown to many. There’s a subculture that exists within the gay community called bug chasing, in which otherwise smart, healthy young men actively seek out others who are infected with the HIV virus. Their purpose is to charm these men and have sex with them, increasing their chances for also contracting the disease that’s lurking in the darkness. This confounding practice is not only extremely foolish, it’s almost certainly self-destructive. It appears to resemble some new form of Russian roulette.
Chance, the ironically named lead character, is such a person. He’s a bored, financially successful young man on the brink of turning 30, with an uncontrolled appetite for kinky sex, new experiences and the need for thrills. He explores the dark world of sex clubs, dangerous drug use and, ultimately, an online dating site for HIV-positive men. There he poses as someone newly diagnosed with the illness so that he can meet other men who actually carry the virus.
Chance meets Ethan through this site, a talented young entrepreneur who runs his own Chicago bakery and who also happens to be HIV-positive. Ethan is understandably guarded about meeting other men and diving into a new relationship, but Chance forces their romance. To guarantee that he contracts the virus, Chance also dabbles in sharing needles and sexual trysts with Sebastian, another man who’s carrying the disease but whom he finds less appealing. Sebastian oozes with smarmy charisma and advice, and he quickly becomes obsessed with Chance. His jealousy ignites conflict and the play’s dramatic conclusion. Throughout this 80-minute one act, Chance also meets with a lesbian health counselor at the Free Clinic, going from bitter to benevolent during their sessions and the course of events.
The problem with Christopher’s play, directed by Hutch Pimentel with brash intensity and style, is that we’re offered no rationale for what Chance is doing. He spends a great deal of time stripping off his clothes, having rough sex and then dressing again, but there’s nothing that moves us. We don’t feel anything for this character and he shows no empathy or understanding during his journey toward self-destruction.
Chance, played by Nik Kourtis, feels more like a statistic with a name, unlike Ethan, who’s beautifully realized by Brian Keys. Ethan is complex and caring and his betrayal is the moment when audiences finally feel some compassion for anyone in this drama. Both Sebastian, played with ferocious feral intensity by Michael Reyes, and Ashley J. Hicks, as a determined Clinic Worker, exhibit more variety and layers of humanity. Without exhibiting so much as an ounce of mercy or goodwill, Chance’s story is simply a barren expedition toward doom.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented November 15-December 12 by First Floor Theater at Collaboraction’s Room 300 Theater in the Flat Iron Arts Building, 1579 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available at http://firstfloortheater.com/
Additional information about this another area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.