5 Guys Chillin’ Review: Cautionary Tales at Drug-Fueled Gay Sex Party

5-guys-chillin-5-elliot-hadley-and-cesare-scarpone
Elliot Hadley and Cesare Scarpone

There are two ways to take “5 Guys Chillin’,” Peter Darney’s play in the Fringe Encore series that takes place among five half-naked gay characters at a drug-fueled sex party. One is as a seductive entertainment in which fit young performers are dancing and smiling and snuggling and generally seem to be having fun, at least initially. The Soho Playhouse even permits the audience to bring in drinks from the downstairs Huron Club.

The other is as something of a public service announcement by writer and director Peter Darney, who, like the Larry Kramer of his generation, is warning members of the gay community about self-destructive excess. Each member of the audience is handed a package of condoms as they enter the theater.

Darney’s evident intent is to have you react to “5 Guys Chillin’” as both an entertainment and as a powerful – and graphic — cautionary tale. The combination can feel awkward at times, and unrealistic. At first blush, it might seem odd that the characters spend much more of their time talking about past practices and experiences rather than, um, making new ones. There is a scene near the end of the play that could come off as downright ludicrous. One of the characters has just gone into a drug-induced fit and become unconscious; the others sit nearby ignoring him and launching into a series of monologues about dangerous or disappointing encounters they have had in the past.

It is important to know, however, that, according to the playwright, every word the characters utter is true, taken from interviews he conducted with people he met on Grindr and other social media apps who are involved in the chemsex subculture. (which is one of the terms helpfully defined in a glossary included in the program.) The (true) stories they tell bluntly impart a lot of information  – about the type of drugs and sexual practices involved, the rules of etiquette of the parties, the racial attitudes of the participants, the varied ways and reasons they got drawn in.

The knowledge that everything the characters say is verbatim (albeit edited) from actual people  adds an extra layer of alarm and revulsion at some of the comments: “I like having sex with guys that have Gonorrhea, ‘cause it’s the best lube in the world.”

That line is given to the character R, who is portrayed by Elliot Hadley, one of the five brave and persuasive performers – and one of the cast members who are holdovers from the production at the Edinburgh Festival in August. Another is Adi Chugh, who portrays PJ, the one newcomer to the party (which is one of the ways the playwright tries to justify all the talk of past sex party experience; the other characters are explaining themselves to the newcomer.) PJ is probably the most memorable character. He is of Pakistani descent, in an arranged marriage to a woman from a small Pakistani village, the father of one son and another on the way. “I’m a Pakistani male from a very traditional family, it’s never gonna be accepted, you know? There’s a part of me that…I will never like myself.” When he first started going to sex parties, “I remember I would always feel a little bit embarrassed, and disgusted at myself. But that was also the bit that I liked. I wanted it to match how I felt inside. A little bit disgusted at myself. A little bit ashamed.”

It is PJ that overdoses in “5 Guys Chillin’” It soon becomes clear that the other characters are ignoring his unconscious body not from some flaw in the writing, but as the playwright’s deliberate comment on one of the insidious products of the chemsex scene — indifference.

 

5 Guys Chillin’ runs through October 9, 2016 as part of the Fringe Encore Series at Soho Playhouse.

Written and directed by Peter Darney

Lighting design by Sherry Coenen, movement director Chris Cuming, sound design by Jo Walker

Cast: Rick Yale as J, Cesare Scarpone as M, Elliot Hadley as R, Richard De Lisle as B, Adi Chugh as PJ

Running time: 70 minutes with no intermission

 

Tickets: $45

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Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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