Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Ronnie Larsen's Sleeping With Straight Men Is The Surprise Hit Of The Summer Season
Also see Richard's recent review of The Ritz
There is a term in theatrical lexicon called "underground theater." Sleeping with Straight Men not only gives meaning to the words but also gives the audience its location. Ronnie Larsen's latest play is playing in a small band box theatre in the basement studio of Theatre Rhinoceros to sell out crowds. The stage is about the size of a large living room and there are plumbing pipes overhead. This is really intimate theater. I don't recommend taking your maiden aunt Emma or someone who thinks Pat Robertson is the cat's pajamas. The production contains male nudity and a simulated male sex scene. It also stars Mink Stole who has graced many of John Waters' films, including Hairspray, Serial Mom and Pink Flamingos. Also in the cast is Dan Renzi who was in MTV's Real World series.
Sleeping with Straight Men is loosely based on the events that took place on the Jenny Jones television talk show in 1995 in a segment called "Secret Admirer." The show brought together Scott Amedure, a gay man, and the straight man Amedure had a crush on, Jonathan Schmitz, both from Pontiac, Michigan. Mr. Schmitz, who was homophobic, had no idea who was his secret admirer. He assumed it was a girl from his home town. Jonathan was floored and embarrassed to find out that another guy was digging him. This upset him so much that three days later he shot and killed Scott Amedure. Jonathan got a second degree conviction by the courts and the family of Amedure got a $25 million settlement from the Jenny Jones show.
Ronnie Larsen's comedy is set in Pontiac, but the names of the real characters have been changed. Jenny Jones is now Jill Johnson and she is played by the legendary Mink Stole. Scott Amedure becomes Stanley, played by Jared Scott, and Jonathan Schmitz is Lee, played by newcomer Aaron Wimmer. The plot follows the setting up of the two men of opposite sexual preference on the national television show. Many of the scenes are campy but cleverly done. Larsen's dialogue is right on the mark. There is a scene, part erotic and part comic, with drag queen Michael Williams (aka Sister Roma) coming out on stage singing and doing an interpretive dance to Paul Simon's "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover" while the two naked males do various simulated sexual positions. Following that, the play suddenly becomes serious when Stanley is shot by Lee. The dramatic scenes do not work very well and some rewriting of dialogue would be in order.
Sleeping has an excellent cast of actors, and the acting is very strong. Jared Scott is just a little over the top as an extremely fey person who likes only to bed macho straight men. He tells his best friend, drag queen singer Sally, that danger and risk make sex much more exciting. There are gays in this society who are drawn to straight macho men, and Jarad has the right spin on these characters. Sometimes he is a little too irritating but that is his character. Aaron Winner, a newcomer to this area, is very good as the straight acting Lee. He is a little tedious at first but he gradually makes this person into a sympathetic character. He is especially good in the poignant scenes at the end of the play.
Mink Stole shows great comic ability as the talk show hostess with a deep, dark secret. Dan Renzi is wonderfully campy as the television show's makeup artist. Sister Roma turns in a good performance as Stanley's only common sense friend while AJ Davenport, who plays the mother of Stanley, and Nora Ludden, who plays Jill's assistant, are fine in smaller roles.
Sleeping with Straight Men is an above average gay play with smart and bright dialogue. The drama runs through July 28 at the Theatre Rhinoceros Studio. Call 415-861-5079 or visit www.ticketweb.com to see this surprise hit of the summer season.