My girlfriend was watching the Republican debate so I arrived at “Stanley in the Name of Love: [A Gay Porn] Pop Musical” alone (I felt as though there were a limited number of people I could invite). As I arrived at the elegant Den Theatre, I saw a sign warning that the show contained strobe lights and nudity, but it was referring to the ten hour compilation of Greek Tragedy that was also running at The Den so we were either spared or deprived those features, depending on one’s taste.
I made my way upstairs, and was directed into a studio I’d never been in before. As the play opened, three angels (Jeff Meyer, Chris Tuttle, and Luke Michael Grimes) discussed the imminent end of the world, and how it could only be saved by true love (It wasn’t clear to me if the absence of true love and the threat of terrestrial extermination were a cause and effect, but I thought, if that were the case, it would be an interesting eschatology, and could have been explored in more depth, even the play’s own excessively campy way. It certainly could have added substance to the occasionally paltry script (Sean Kelly)
Enter the gay and impoverished Stanley (Steve Love), who leaves his “hag,” Harriet (Christina Boucher), a friend or sister (it wasn’t clear which). Instead, he goes in search of true love in the gay porn industry (No, I’m not sure why or why one of the angels didn’t come down and put a stop to this immediately with some homespun celestial advice). Here, he meets Rod Fullalove (Michael Peters), an aging gay porn star, and the porn director and producer: Burt (David Cerda). Even though Stanley will ultimately turn back to look for true love in places more conducive to it, this is where the bulk of the action takes place, and which unexpectedly maintains sustained high tension. Some moments were truly gripping, and here the blocking (Sean Kelly) is extremely effective.
That said, it is never clear in these scenes whether the plot and dialogue are supposed to be earnest or ridiculous, as extended sub plot this seemed way too serious for the rest of the play (even though it was premised on the world ending), and the dialogue veered between the truly sublime and the excessively high and ridiculous so that it was difficult to tell if the attempt at lyricism was supposed to be sincere or satirical. Peters, in what turned out to be a very credible portrayal of a man tormented by weariness; disappointment; loneliness; and cynicism, seemed like he was struggling between the two in his delivery, never quite sure whether to be ironic or serious. Nonetheless, he is clearly a very talented actor and his character and performance were certainly the most sophisticated. Love’s Stanley was effeminate to a degree that I have never seen before, either in real life or on stage, and his performance threatened to get lost in his highly caricatured voice and gestures. However, he was also talented enough to be able to deliver lines with a fair degree of sincerity and emotion, especially during the musical numbers with gorgeous and intensely-felt singing.
The two other main actors didn’t fare so well. Cerda’s performance fell completely flat. Boucher didn’t speak her lines loud enough and they sounded trite and insincere (which may have fit the play but it seemed discordant among the aforementioned performances). I am sure it didn’t help that the director (Sean Kelly) thought he could make her ugly simply by putting an excessive amount of large and unconvincing warts on her (Costume: Curtis Cassell), and I suspect that even the most tolerant of theatre goers will have a hard time not finding this choice unnecessary and misogynist (In fairness, the press notes mention that this is an avowedly offensive piece, something that you are supposed to “hate to love”).
Other than that, the costumes were well done and appropriate to the satirical, semi-absurdist, script, employing considerable excess while still remaining credible enough to sustain a narrative. The three angels were particular delightful in garb that was ridiculous, fantastic, and celestial). The musical numbers written by (Nickolas Blazina, Henry Riggs, Alex Kliner, and Sean Kelly) were truly wonderful, but more sophisticated lighting (Cody Ryan), a higher degree of scenic design (Zachary Gipson), and a more coherent script, as well as consistent performances and direction, were needed to give the play some much needed clarity, unity, and purpose even as an absurdist, camp, and satirical piece. In fact sometimes, the play’s assets, such as Kelly’s serious, intelligent, even gorgeous blocking only added to the confusion as to what we were supposed to be experiencing.
“Stanley In the Name of Love” is playing at The Den Theatre, located at 1333 W. Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago through August 29th. It is being produced by The New Colony. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 PM. Tickets are $20 to $25. Senior and Student Tickets are 25% off. They are currently available at www.thenewcolony.com There are post-show discussions on August 20 about the character of Stanley and Thursday August 26th about the Costume Design. To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com. Go to Review Round-up and click at “Stanley in the Name of Love”.