Chicago Theatre Review
A Tale of Two Cities
Beds – Pride Films and Plays
As part of their overstuffed and eventful, month-long celebration of Gay Pride, David Zak’s cutting edge theatrical company presents a double-bill of one acts from the annals of gay literature. Both plays, united by a large bed, come from two very different eras in LGBT history. The plays are set on either coast, making this also an American tale of two cities. Directed by David Zak with care and a deep empathy for all his characters, each play focuses on a different gay couple during a different time period.
“Jerker,” the first half of this double feature, is Robert Chesley’s notable 1986 drama about two men whose relationship evolves primarily by telephone. Lying alone in bed, his leg wrapped in bandages and with a crutch stashed nearby, JR is a war veteran. His activities are somewhat limited by his physical impairment, although the young man manages to periodically make it to one of San Francisco’s many gay bars. Prior to the start of the play, JR apparently received a phone number from Bert, a handsome young businessman he’d been cruising at a local watering holes. JR decides to call him during this lonely night.
The one-act consists of a series of graphically erotic sexual encounters between the two men, all experienced by telephone. At first simply a series of commands and demands, the men eventually begin to indulge in vivid fantasies and role playing. However, with the dark specter of AIDS hovering over the nation, decimating the gay population at an alarming rate, Bert shares some shocking news with his new phone friend. In a personal moment with JR, Bert confides that one of his close friends has been hospitalized, bringing this tragic epidemic closer to home.
The two young actors who bring this play to life are superb. As JR, Trevor Bates pretty much runs the show. Playing a sexually driven young man, he begins the play by discovering a slip of paper containing Bert’s phone number. He initiates their telephone relationship, and, as time passes, theatergoers will marvel at how realistically Bates plays this role. His blind obsession with Bert grows and transcends from mere lust to love, taking this play to a new level.
Boyishly handsome, Cody Dericks is Bert. As a young businessman of the 80’s who enjoys frequenting bars, picking up men and bringing them back to his bed for one night stands, Dericks is excellent. He makes Bert’s growing attraction to JR, his anonymous, unseen sexual partner, very believable. But where Dericks truly shines is in the final scenes, as he confides in JR, tearfully confessing his fear about his friend David’s medical condition. The conclusion to Chesley’s drama is inevitable, but, under David Zak’s fine direction, the closing moments are an emotional sucker punch for every audience member.
Touching, although not quite as moving as the first play, this second offering is certainly an important drama that reflects the sexual attitudes of an era ten years later. James Edwin Parker’s 1995 one-act takes place in New York City. As the lights come up, we find two “Two Boys in a Bed on a Cold Winter Night.”
Daryl has picked up Peter at a local Manhattan gay bar, bringing him back to his frigid Chelsea flat for a romp in the hay. As night melts into early morning, Daryl awakens and tries to arouse his sexual partner for another round of play. But instead, a postcoital discussion emerges about gay sexual practices, dating and longterm relationships. Daryl, a lonely 36-year-old graphics designer, is played with angst and eager desperation by Christopher Kauffmann. Peter, his trick for the night is, coincidentally, the same age, but a very different kind of guy. He’s a swaggering, overly confident construction worker, portrayed with smirking brashness and bravado by Nick Bryant.
Throughout the early hours the two men talk about their first sexual encounters, dance to Donna Summer and recall their favorite disco haunts from the 70’s. They discuss the roles each has played during their various past encounters, confess their HIV statuses and unleash an array of lies that eventually expose their hidden hostility. Daryl is revealed to be a hopeless romantic, consumed with finding Mr. Right; while Peter is a cocksure stud who simply prefers to just live in the moment. With little patience for Daryl’s pipe dreams and his declaration of love, Peter finally dresses and returns out into the cold, warning faded pretty boy Daryl to stop being so needy.
This play is more talk than action and far too argumentative to be more than annoying. Unlike JR and Bert, from the earlier play, neither Daryl nor Peter is particularly likable. It’s difficult to cheer with or experience empathy for a pair of men who are so unpleasant to each other and filled with so many emotional problems. This heartbreakingly flawed drama is interesting, primarily as a period piece. It plays well as a comparison to “Jerker,” to the more poignant, earlier drama, but it ultimately leaves audiences with an empty feeling.
David Zak has directed this double feature with as much drive and feeling as possible, but Parker’s script simply doesn’t allow the two actors to connect with their audience in the same way as the Chesley’s play. Still, for a fascinating look at two historically important LGBT dramas, Pride Films and Plays offers this unique limited engagement during Pride month.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented June 4-16 by Pride Films and Plays at the Pride Arts Center, 4139 N. Broadway, Chicago.
Tickets are available at the door, by calling the box office at 800-737-0984 or by going to www.prideartscenter.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.