Circle Jerk is not a Warholesque depiction of male sexuality climaxing in a circle jerk. Alas, this dick-wilting folderol is the latest masturbatory, vapid and meta theatrical exercise from the well-heeled team of negligible theater makers Michael Breslin and Patrick Foley. In 2018, they perpetrated their vanity project, This American Wife on the world and have since been unstoppable in the arena of alternative theatre.
In Circle Jerk, this cocky duo confidently preen, bray and cavort while donning various wigs and flamboyant costumes as multiple fey stock characters for over two numbing hours of their self-congratulatory twaddle. Their grating characterizations are achieved by intently staring into the camera, making faces, raising eyebrows and doing voices. It’s not Your Show of Shows, but a niche audience of friends, relatives, academics and trustafarians who could be amused by their antics. Cat Rodríguez appears in several female roles with campy flair.
Theatergoers with taste and intuition will have passed on this one-week East Village engagement that’s presented by the Fake Friends theater company and Slave Play author and cultural titan, Jeremy O. Harris, which is also live streaming. During the performance under review, the live stream was inoperative for five welcome minutes.
Mr. Breslin and Mr. Foley’s (with the dramaturgical assistance of Ariel Sibert and Ms. Rodríguez) muddled sophomoric sci-fi fantasia takes place on Gayman Island, “gayest place in the nation.” There’s more attitude than plot, as two internet trolls cause mayhem while a hideous Greek chorus-like Troll narrates:
Jurgen is the biggest fag on all your favorite apps:
A YouTube self-help guru, his fame may soon collapse.
Lord Baby Bussy is Jurgen’s bestest friend
A lush for life, a slut for butt, the first to know what trends.
Honney’s Jurgen’s loyal servant but, not so secretly,
He’s king of Broadway message boards, spilling all the tea!
The verse dialogue is laden with memes, so contemporary catchphrases, buzzwords and clichés abound, striving for clever hilarity, but thud. An aspiring actor inspires much Broadway-insider bitchiness. There’s with-it conversing on hot button cultural topics. Nothing is funny, memorable or weighty.
Circle Jerk’s genesis dates from the 2020 pandemic shutdown of live theater. Its creators got attention for their piece’s digital presentation due to not much else happening and high-powered publicity. Technically the show is polished, video and co-lighting designer David Bengali, scenic and props designer Stephanie Osin Cohen, sound designer Kathy Ruvuna, costume designer Cole McCarty, and wig and make-up designer Tommy Kurzman’s contributions are all high caliber. Director Rory Pelsue does his best with his brisk staging to plaster over the deficient material.
The 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Drama was awarded to Katori Hall’s wonderful Southern gay Black male comedic opus, The Hot Wing King. Perhaps out of trendy magnanimity the streaming Circle Jerk was designated as one of the two Pulitzer Prize for Drama finalists, along with Zora Howard’s Stew. “A contemporary satire featuring outrageous situations and language repurposed from the internet to skewer online culture and question what identities we have permission to claim” was the Pulitzer committee’s summation of Circle Jerk. Strange days indeed.
Circle Jerk (through June 25, 2022, in-person and live-streaming)
Fake Friends + Jeremy O. Harris, with generous support from FourthWall Theatrical
Connelly Theater, 220 East 4th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.circlejerk.live
Running time: two hours and 10 minutes including two intermissions