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Coming Clean

The odyssey of a Milwaukee gay man from childhood then to prostitution, drug addiction and redemption in New York City that’s a self-help saga.  

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Ben Strothmann in “Coming Clean,” part of Horse Trade’s Queerly Festival (Photo credit: Steven Fontas)

Darryl Reilly

Darryl Reilly, Critic

“All blowjobs are not created equal” is representative of the wit to be found in writer and performer Ben Strothmann’s confessional solo play Coming Clean. A clothed, though graphic demonstration of his ability to fellate himself is a major highlight.

For 85 minutes, we get a take on the gay male experience that includes a randy Midwestern adolescence, waitering and escorting in Manhattan, crystal meth and recovery.  The writing is well-constructed, contains flavorful descriptive passages and is forceful. The personable Mr. Strothmann delivers his monologue in a charming manner that realizes its dramatic and comedic qualities while taking his shirt off and dropping his pants along the way.

The show is presented as part of the New York City theater companies’ FRIGID New York @ Horse Trade’s fourth annual Queerly festival that showcases “gender-liminal, super-gay, non-conformist, totally butch, aggressively femme and subversive AF celebration of all things LGBTQA (LMNOP).” Previously it was produced at Dixon Place’s HOT! festival of LGBTQ works under the title Virtual Memory.

Coming Clean definitely fulfills the concerns of these niche expositions. Whether it succeeds as a universal work of theater depends on one’s sensibilities. It could possibly be viewed as a searing work of self-redemption, as a wan therapeutic exercise or somewhere in between.

Ben Strothmann in “Coming Clean,” part of Horse Trade’s Queerly Festival (Photo credit: Steven Fontas)

“I Will Survive” sung by Gloria Gaynor was the number one song when Strothmann was born in 1979 in Wisconsin and this factoid serves as a starting point to childhood reminiscences. At the age of six he has a crush on a boy and is attracted to the cartoon character Foghorn Leghorn. The Pink Panther is also an object of desire. By his teenage years he’s sexually active with men and has a boyfriend via AOL chat rooms.

A high school choir visit to New York City proves heady and leads to several return journeys and moving there permanently at the age of 21. He’d been working as a headshot and theater photographer.  With notions of becoming a performer, he studies with a voice teacher though there is never any mention of auditioning for or appearing in any shows. After a successful turn at being a waiter falters, he becomes an escort, advertising on RentBoy.com and receives glorious reviews for his services.

We are informed numerous times of the large amounts of money he gets from his often physically unattractive clients. One is so particularly repulsive that Strothmann cries while performing oral sex on him.  There’s a sequence detailing sex with a grotesque 61-year-old man who is going to give him periodic checks of $10,000.  A relationship with a drug dealer instigates a dependence on crystal meth that’s later replaced by marijuana. A new paramour buys him a camera as a 24th birthday present. “Within a year I have become a full-fledged Broadway theatrical photographer. I am making around $40,000 a year, plus health insurance! My portrait studio is regularly booked with clients.” After getting clean, he’s able to be his own boyfriend and to love himself.

Director Mark Finley who is the artistic director of The Other Side of Silence (TOSOS), a preeminent New York City gay theater company has staged Coming Clean with focus, clarity and momentum, endowing it with theatricality. The stage is bare, except for a bench that gets a lot of mileage as Strothmann vigorously and precisely is variably positioned onstage. The proficient lighting, sound and illustrative projections on the back wall all contribute dynamism to the production.

Coming Clean is an exemplary addition to and will delight ardent devotees of the genre of autobiographical gay one-person shows.

Coming Clean (June 22 and 27, 2018)

FRIGID New York @ Horse Trade’s Queerly Festival

The Kraine Theater, 85 East 4th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, visit http://www.horsetrade.info

Running time: 85 minutes with no intermission

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Darryl Reilly
About Darryl Reilly (563 Articles)
A native New Yorker, Darryl Reilly graduated from NYU with a BFA in Cinema Studies. For the Broadway League, (formerly The League of American Theatres and Producers) he developed, and for five years conducted their Broadway Open House Tours, which took visitors through The Theatre District and into several Broadway theaters. He contributed to Broadway Musicals Show by Show: Sixth Edition (Applause Books). Since 2013, he has reviewed theater, cabaret, and concerts for Theaterscene.net.

1 Comment on Coming Clean

  1. https://www.facebook.com/BenVeganStrothmann/posts/10157772658269012

    FOR ANYONE WHO WANTED TO SEE MY PLAY BUT WASN’T ABLE TO MAKE IT:

    Please comment on the Facebook post (linked above) stating your interest so that I know who to follow up with when the following idea is ready.

    I’ve got an idea brewing that would help me fund some future opportunities related to my play (as well as some other projects in need of funding.)

    I’m considering doing a one-time-only video-on-demand rental setup through YouTube (or maybe another online service) so that those of you who wanted to see the video could watch it from the comfort of your own home.

    Obviously, I don’t want to sell a DVD, upload the video publicly, or sell you a permanent link to the video, as it’s a work in progress and I don’t want it to be “out there” and not have control over it.

    But I would like to be able to charge you an equivalent ticket price for a one-time viewing of the show with a video link that expires in 24 hours after you buy.

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