In a 2009 interview with The Guardian, a British newspaper, playwright Joe DiPietro remarked that his recent play about the sexual habits of gay men contained “no actual shenanigans” on stage.
Leave it to Buffalo United Artists, a frequent producer of risqué and progressive gay theater in which full frontal male nudity is standard practice, to sidestep that idea.
In “F------ Men,” the title of which is an intentionally crude double-entendre designed to excite DiPietro’s intended audience and compel buttoned-up theatergoers to steer clear, those shenanigans are practically omnipresent. And while there really is no “actual” activity of the sort the play’s various hormone-driven characters constantly engage in, this large cast assembled by director and BUA founder Javier Bustillos does its best to convince you otherwise.
Which is to say: Leave your imagination at home with the kids, because BUA’s hilarious, intermissionless production doesn’t leave much for it to do. And that’s just the way Bustillos and company have designed it.
DiPietro’s play is not just skin-deep. This, after all, is the author of “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” one of the longest running off-Broadway shows in history and a sensitive exploration of the romantic peaks and valleys that couples of all kinds experience. (A production of that show will open in the Kavinoky Theatre on June 14.)
For all its playful and shameless titillation, the play is a clever if not exactly boundary-breaking consideration of the ways in which gay men from a cross-section of American society connect to one another. It is based on the late-19th century play “La Ronde” by Arthur Schnitzler, a heterosexual exploration of precisely the same questions.
The piece, in its clever borrowed structure and suitably snappy dialogue, covers familiar territory for BUA’s target audience. The perpetual topic for many of these genre pieces is the constant tug-of-war between promiscuity and monogamy and characters’ attempts to find a place for themselves somewhere in the uncomfortable territory between.
The characters are quickly sketched archetypes – the closeted actor (Michael Seitz), the horny college kid (Steven Brachmann), the husband who messes around (Brant Adamczyk), the husband who can’t bring himself to mess around (Joey Bucheker), etc. – and their simplicity serves the simple conceit of this play well.
It’s divided up into a dozen or so vignettes, each one linked to the next by some interstitial hanky-panky.
We first meet the young escort John (Jimi Konidis) and the soldier Steve (James Wild), who spend five illicit minutes in a public park. We flash forward to Steve spending five illicit minutes in a gym sauna with the young grad student Marco (James Mikula). Then Marco meets Kyle; Kyle meets Leo (Bucheker); Leo argues with his husband Jack (Adamczyk); and Jack screws around with a porn star (J.R. Finan).
Along the way, the young playwright Sammy (played by young playwright Matthew Crehan Higgins, clearly a stand-in for DiPietro) hooks up – in an actual closet – with closeted screen star Brandon, who he drives to come out of the closet on the national television show hosted by his fellow closeted friend Donald (Richard Fanning).
The performances in this show are all over the map quality-wise, but DiPietro’s largely playful material withstands the sometimes rough treatment it receives.
Things come full-circle in a satisfying way, although no one seems to truly resolve the issues that vex them.
DiPietro, clever playwright that he is, spares us from contrived epiphanies that lesser talents might have tossed in as morality lessons to wrap the piece up in a neat little package.
There are no epic realizations, no tidy solutions, no soul-shattering lessons in “F------ Men.” But there don’t need to be. The play succeeds merely by living up to its title.
3 stars (Out of four)
What: “F------ Men”
When: Through Feb. 23
Where: Buffalo United Artists Theatre, 119 Chippewa St.
Tickets: $15 to $25
Info: 886-9239 or www.buffalobua.org.