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Tricks of the Trade

Theatre Review by Warren Hoffman

Well finally, gay men can stop complaining that there isn't an "Afterschool Special" for them. With Tricks of the Trade, the meandering, overlong dramedy at the Duplex Theatre, playwright and director John Capo has captured every nuance of superficial gay bar life and all its hidden dangers therein, down to the last boring random hookup.

Publicity for the show proudly heralds that As Is author William Hoffman calls Capo's show "The Boys in the Band for this generation." An honor not to sniff at I guess, but a comparison that might do more harm then good. Capo's "boys" are as self-loathing and unlikeable as Crowley's, but where Boys in the Band was fairly cutting edge in its day, other than updating the locale to a gay bar, Capo does little to rethink the social problems and issues facing the gay community in any sort of imaginative fashion.

The characters of Capo's show are little more than cardboard cutouts, often mincing their way from one amorphous scene to another. Seemingly having a combined IQ of no more than eighty, the four boys, Joey, Tommy, Brian, and Nick, ranging in age from late teens to early twenties, have nothing better to do than gossip and find their next "trick." Joey (Benjamin Sands), though, has thrown a wrench into his friends' plans when he announces that his days of cheap pickups are over because he is in Love (with a capital L). For you see, this cute twenty-two year old has been in a wonderful five week (!) relationship with Craig who seems to be the One (capital O).

Friend Tommy (Jeremy O'Keefe) finds Joey's newfound puritanical ways repugnant and bets Joey that he can get him to hookup with another man before the night is over. And so, Joey mopes around at the bar making unsuccessful cell phone calls to his missing-in-action boyfriend as a number of tricks (all played by Chris O'Neill) proposition him, much to his annoyance. Why, though, does Joey even stay at the bar if he is so unhappy? Is his life so empty that he has nothing better to do with his time than wait for boyfriend Craig to call? The lack of dramatic impetus in the play is egregious and subsequently the piece drags on mercilessly.

An intermissionless hour and forty-five minutes later, Joey has not succumbed in what has to be one of the most lackluster and dated excuses for a "problem play" in recent theater history: can gay men foster relationships that are more than one-night stands? In more adept hands, such an idea might have borne fruit, but Capo has instead provided us with a tedious picture of verisimilitude down to the show's flashing disco lights and pulsating pop beats that his club clones grind to. The play lacks a cohesive plot and instead wanders from one underwritten and flat scene to another in which the boys reveal who they've already slept with and who they'd like to get with next. Even more clunky, Capo has inserted bizarre monologues throughout the evening in which actor Chris O'Neill offers up a variety of characters including a Sondheim queen, an ass fetishist, and in a particularly strange appearance, a priest who likes to frequent gay bars. Awkward and tangential to what little plot there already is, Capo had me rushing to my program to make sure that I wasn't at a performance of Doubt.

If the wager between Joey and Tommy seems inconsequential, it reads as profound in light of the petty problems of Brian, a seventeen year old gay boy, who, as played by Tyson Murphy, embodies every tired movie diva of the 1940s, and his shallow guy pal Nick (Jason Mitchell). The two are a minor pair and the way they anguish over the sexual problems in their lives makes the Queer Eye's Fab Five look like they're solving world peace.

With a Saturday at 9:30 PM show time, I can only imagine this play appealing to the demographic that the show depicts, bar-hopping gay men who need something to do before going clubbing at midnight. Capo isn't wrong to want to address problems in the gay community, but Tricks of the Trade is simple too clichéd, particularly in light of the fact that these same issues were handled much more inventively just a few seasons back with Jonathan Tolins's The Last Sunday in June. For those who still decide to indulge in this trifle of a play, you'll be glad to know that drinks are available at the theater. Though I abstained from imbibing, this play left me with one bad hangover.

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Tricks of the Trade
Through February 12
Running Time: 1 hr 45 minutes (with no intermission)
Duplex Cabaret Theatre, 61 Christopher Street on Seventh Avenue South
Schedule and Tickets: 212.255.5438