It’s a documentary-style, inherently bleak, British play that boldly explores contemporary gay male drug-fueled sex parties. Dynamically performed, very well conceived and theatrically accomplished, it’s an intense though often humorous presentation.
Sixty-five minutes of athletic gay men wearing tank tops, gym shirts, colorful underwear and singlets, taking various drugs and candidly holding forth about their sexuality may be off putting for some people. For others, it could be a searing and informative examination. The program contains a glossary defining the different drugs and situations that are depicted.
The ensemble comprised of Elliot Hadley, Cesare Scarpone, Adi Chugh, Richard De Lisle, and Rick Yale all superbly portrays these immensely troubled characters. With their vivid characterizations, they individually and collectively convey the dysfunctional mindset that propels these men to persist in self-destructive behavior.
Writer and director Peter Darney’s script is based on and intertwines over 50 hours of interviews with gay men contacted through the gay social media site Grindr. From this real life material, Mr. Darney has skillfully fashioned an engaging five-person, unflinching character study. There’s no plot and no resolution but it is still a compelling take on this phenomenon.
When the audience arrives one of the actors is onstage alone running around arranging things for a party. Audio clips of The X Factor with Simon Cowell are heard. There’s a worn sofa and a table with drug paraphernalia and a large anatomically correct dildo that’s later demonstratively displayed. Gradually, the other actors make their way down the theater aisle and go up onstage.
Barebacking, PrEP, body image, HIV, racism versus preference in the gay community, relationships, friendships gruesome descriptions of sexually transmitted diseases, and a variety of drugs and whether they’re snorted, smoked or injected are among the topics analyzed.
Collaborating with movement director Chris Cuming, Darney’s staging is aesthetically pleasing. Arresting tableaus and dance sequences visualize sexual activities suggestively and the dialogue portions have momentum.
Blackouts, eerie dimness, and an incidental soundtrack of pop songs are features of Sherry Coenen’s lighting design and Jo Walker’s sound design, respectively. Their vibrant efforts are intrinsic to the production’s success.
Before being performed at the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, 5 Guys Chillin’ was produced in London, at the Brighton Fringe Festival 2015/16, and at the Dublin International Gay Theatre Festival 2016. It won several awards at these venues and is now making its New York City premiere.
Like its subject matter, 5 Guys Chillin’ becomes numbing due to the relentless and repetitive actions enacted. It somberly ends and the actors remain on stage in silence as the audience eventually leaves. It’s a powerful image that visually reinforces the notion that these characters are hopelessly trapped in their hedonistic alienation.
“Sex takes over your life completely…I like drugs they make you feel happy…”
5 Guys Chillin’ (through October 9, 2016)
The SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.sohoplayhouse.com
Running time: 65 minutes with no intermission