Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Also see Patrick's review of How to Transcend a Happy Marriage
But before you overdose on metaphors of shattered expectations, let's talk about the play itself. You'll Catch Flies focuses on a group of four gay friends in their early thirties who are gathered at the apartment (nicely accomplished by set designer Sarah Phykitt) of two of them: Dev (Devon Marra), an ad sales exec who has recently decided not to pursue a career in physical therapy; and Smitty (Sal Mattos), a failed writer who is now a failing photographer seeking fame on Instagram by capturing candid images of people in unguarded moments. Their friends J (Chris Steele) and Marcos (Vaho) have stopped in for an afternoon kiki (defined by the Urban Dictionary as "A party including good music and good friends, held for express purpose of calming nerves, reducing anxiety and stress and generally fighting ennui. May involve locked doors, tea and salacious gossip."). There's no music, tea or locked doors, but plenty of alcohol (and a well-used cannabis vape pen) and lots of salacious gossip.
While the four wait for Marty (Robert Kittler) and his brother Cory (Max Seijas) to join the party, they loll about, drink, look at photos from previous kikis, and speculate on what might be going on with Marty and Cory. You see, Marty was adopted and has recently discovered his birth family and made the acquaintance of younger brother Cory, who is also gay, and who the foursome think might be a bit too close. In act two, once the late-arriving Marty and Cory finally show up, the drama we've been set up for sadlyspoiler alertnever makes its appearance.
Though playwright Ryan Fogarty allows his dramatic arc to sputter and fizzle into a nothingburger, he is to be commended for keeping the bitchy gossip and tart one-liners flowing. Of a former friend who "moved to Portland and got fat," Fogarty gives Dev the adorable "she went from Miu Miu to muumuu." When it's revealed J has forgotten he drunkenly declared his love for Marcos at a party celebrating Marcos's expatriating to Spain, Dev wonders "what was in your system that night?" "A lot of chemicals," J replies, "And sadness." When another character gets off a good line, Dev offers "I like the cut of your glib."
Yet, beneath the surface of all this cattiness, there is an emptiness in Fogarty's characters that I think was intended. The boys act experienced and worldly but at their core seem to have no idea of how to guide themselves to happier lives. But aren't we all a little like that in the decade or so after we leave our parents' nest?
The cast is at their best when the characters are at their worst. Devon Marra shines as the queen bee, snapping off the best lines and flitting through the room as if nothing else matters but being fabulous, flirty and oh-so-superior. Sal Mattos plays Smitty as a genial stoner, aimless in his career yet confident without cause that he will land on his feet. He plays his vape pen like a piccolo of pot, and lounges languidly on the couch until whatever next thing temporarily seizes his imagination and rockets him into momentary motion. Chris Steele's J is the moral core of this group, and Steele the only performer able to tap into real emotion when the foursome's plan to catch Marty and Cory in some incestuous canoodling backfires and the boys are brought face to face with what their shallowness hath wrought. If only their scene partners could match their ability to deliver Fogarty's emotional denouement with the gravity it requires. Director Tom Bruett deserves some of the blame here, for he fails to guide his cast to a pace that feels organic to Fogarty's text, and both the comedy and drama often feel rushed. (Though, with additional performances, this problem of rhythm may resolve itself.)
Chekov famously stated that a gun revealed in act one of a play must go off in act two. I'd add that it should fire more than a fluttering flag that announces nothing more than an impotent bang.
You'll Catch Flies runs through February 23, 2020, at New Conservatory Theatre Center's Walker Theatre, 25 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco CA. Performances are Wednesdays-Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $25-$55. For tickets and information, please visit NCTCSF.org or call 415-861-8972.