Theater Review: The Men at [email protected]

At first, Marty knows nothing about his husband’s straying, but talebearer Steve goes out of his way to make sure that the ignorant party is wised up. When Marty confronts faithless Aiden, a choice has to be made. Either Marty will leave the love of his life, or will have to share him with another. The fact that the married couple have an adopted son makes the outcome all the more important.


Now, this narrative could be structure enough on which to place notable insights on the subjects of gay marriage, gay adoptions, human friendships or just contemporary life. But author Couture doesn’t have much to offer on any of those subjects, or at least nothing that a more or less regular theatergoer (or newspaper reader) hasn’t already encountered a hundred times.


What he does have is a certain joy in creating characters. So we come to know Steve, a vicious gossip and manipulator of information; Bernie, the teddy bear confidant and all-welcoming bartender; Roberto, the much-sinned-against Hispanic cross-dresser; and a few others – Jim, Eddy and Lance among them – whose relevance isn’t so clear. We get to watch them trade barbs, keep secrets, dispense advice and spill the beans, and we occasionally watch them in fairly tense confrontations with one another.The story unfolds in many different places, and each is announced to us on a screen that reads “Bernie’s Bar” or “The Ranch,” etc. What we're ultimately shown is a community of gay men who are also friends and, at times, lovers, and who can affect each other’s happiness with just a word given — or withheld.


And here’s where the casting becomes all-determining. There are, as I said, only three actors whose work is top-notch. First, there’s Daniel Harris as Steve, a sinister presence who’s sharp-witted and garrulous and dangerous to know. I’ve seen Harris in a bunch of shows at Gypsy Productions, and I’m convinced he’s one of the best actors in the Bay area. Jorge Acosta is hilarious as Roberto, the flamboyant victim of a long litany of abuses, and Stephen Riordan, after a slow start, eventually shines as Marty, the good soul who only wants a trusting spouse with whom to share parenthood.


The rest of the cast isn’t nearly so persuasive. Greg Milton as Bernie, Chase Adin as Lance, Andy Orrell as Eddy and Armando Hernandez as Pearl Nek Lee are just adequate stage presences, and Greg Doherty as Jim, Jonathan Irion as Todd and Nick White as Aiden aren't believable at all.


Bob Devin Jones’ directing is precise and kinetic (though it makes no sense for his scene-changers to high-spiritedly dance as they haul off furniture), and Steven K. Mitchell’s set, featuring two playing areas, is bright and attractive. David Bewley’s costumes include the height of artifice — Steve’s carefully chosen togs — and all that underwear. Nick Hinckley is the DJ for the music that plays beneath each scene.


It doesn’t add up. What The Men finally offers us is the same old same old. Gay, straight or indifferent, we’ve seen it before. The lovers. The interloper. The anguished recriminations.


As Agamemnon said to Clytemnestra: how long has this been going on?


There are only three actors of real merit in Christian Couture’s The Men at The [email protected], and when the show in question boasts 10 performers, that’s a real problem. The other problem is that the plot of The Men isn’t about much besides a typically unstable love triangle, and the novelty of seeing gay men at all three points isn’t enough to make the play significant.

Still, the question of which two lovers will prevail creates some suspense, and there’s a good-heartedness to playwright Couture’s intentions that carries the play along even at its least inspired moments. There’s also a modicum of nudity and a lot of form-fitting underwear, so theatergoers in search of an “R” rating will be satisfied.

Those in search of something more — an epiphany, a new perspective, a dizzying insight into gay life — won’t find much to think about. In a theater world that includes Angels in America, Love! Valour! Compassion! and even Jeffrey, The Men just offers too little, too late.

The play, which is based on Clare Booth Luce’s The Women, involves a group of friends trying to navigate married life when infidelity is rampant and gossip is everywhere. The key relationship at the start is between Marty, a sincere and deeply faithful partner, and Aiden, his doctor husband, who’s also been secretly seeing a certain Todd.

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