Chicago Theatre Review
Hot Boys and Hilarity in Hell’s Kitchen
The Boys Upstairs – Pride Films and Plays
Josh and Seth are best friends and roommates, living in one of Midtown Manhattan’s trendy brownstones. They’re preparing for a visit from Ashley, the third member of these gay caballeros. Ashley is a male Southern Belle and queen of one-night stands. His insatiable appetite for hot young men challenges the more traditional romantic lives of both Josh and Seth, each of whom has met the man they believe to be Mister Right. Then, enter Eric, a hunky new building tenant, whose sexual orientation is unclear and becomes a topic of interest for the boys upstairs. As time passes the nights become hotter, sexual tension ramps up and hijinks ensue.
Executive director David Zak stages this US professional premiere of Jason Mitchell’s spicy comedy with his usual flair and style. It’s apropos that Zak is presenting this production at Mary’s Attic, the “upstairs” gay bar and cabaret venue nestled above Hamburger Mary’s. Mitchell’s play was a hit at New York’s 2009 International Fringe Festival, as well as at various theatres in Los Angeles and London. It’s a zesty, zinger-filled, fast-paced comedy of manners (or lack thereof) that sports a cast of stock gay characters involved in predictable situations. Even the happy ending of this play won’t surprise anyone, but it’s the journey and Zak’s energetic direction, executed by an accomplished cast, that provides delightful performances that both titillate and charm.
The upstairs ensemble is led by Nelson Rodriguez as Josh. Walking a wobbly tightrope between calm and cautious, Josh is one of those young men fortunate enough to live off an ample allowance provided by his parents, while interning at the Huffington Post. He’s also trying to interest the powers-that-be in an app he’s developed for gay men who’d like to master their lives in one easy step. Josh meets a handsome doctor named Sam who instantly charms him while winning his heart. Sweet elementary teacher Seth is played with honesty by the handsome Gary Henderson. He’s the more levelheaded of the two roommates and, because of this, Seth remains more vulnerable and easily hurt. The young man is in a relationship with an obsessive-compulsive neatnik named Matt, but their future seems to be in question. Josh and Seth form a kind of family by choice, lovingly playing off each other with style and ease.
The Southern whore of Babylon, the boys’ friend Ashely, invades their apartment for a lengthy visit to New York City. Fresh from his sojourn in Paris as a runway coordinator, Ashley’s ready to take a bite out of the Big Apple and, like Snow White, end up in bed with a prince or two. Played by Shaun Baer with verve and vivacity, Ashley’s an amalgam of Blanche du Bois and Beverly Leslie (as played by Leslie Jordan on “Will and Grace”). This party boy’s one hundred percent camp, colorful and a connoisseur of cocktails. He’s also a girl who can’t say no. Then there’s Tristien M. Winfree as Eric, the handsome, well-built new neighbor from the apartment downstairs. He continually pops in whenever he needs to borrow something from the boys. However, there may be more behind his constant visits than simply to mooch.
But the best performance of the evening comes from Luke Meierdiercks, playing no less than six distinct characters. He accomplishes this smoothly, with confidence and ease. With simply an adjustment to his coif, the addition of glasses or a different line delivery, Luke becomes G.L., Bill, Matt, Brad, Sam and Gabe. The highlight of all his performances is his musical theatre-obsessed young stud whose dialogue overflows with titles, lines and lyrics from hundreds of Broadway shows. Not only is Mr. Meierdiercks talented and versatile, he’s hilarious, as well as a stone hunk. As one of the sexy Boys in Briefs, from PF&P’s ongoing cabaret act, Luke proves he’s a gifted singer and dancer, as well as a guy who looks terrific in his skivvies.
In fact, thanks to a carefully executed costume design by Kat Sass, all five men look great in their underwear and nicely fill out their colorful BVDs with style and sex appeal. Mitch Anthony’s cleverly designed set transforms the tiny stage at Mary’s Attic into a multi-doored apartment, furnished with a bar, apropos decor and a convertible sofa that becomes a bed at a moment’s notice. And Blue Benson’s toe-tapping soundtrack is party perfect and keeps the proceedings moving happily along.
Jason Mitchell’s play isn’t groundbreaking but it’s provocative and fun. Filled with sexy situations, adult language and humorous characters, the comedy provides a number of well-deserved laughs. The story, while rather traditional, is contagious and silly. It’s a perfect as an entertainment for gay audiences. Mitchell’s characters are all captivating, especially as directed by David Zak and performed by this talented, hardworking cast. Finally, the play’s message is familiar, especially to those Friends of Dorothy: If you’re searching for your heart’s desire, look no further than your own backyard.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented May 19-July 2 by Pride Films & Plays at Mary’s Attic, 5400 N Clark, Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling 800-737-0984 or by going to www.pridefilmsandplays.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.