One of the best things about Buffalo United Artists, the stage for LGBT stories, is its commitment to document history as its happening. The company, currently in its 24th season, has always made a point to identify the ways in which its primary audiences goes through life, how they must also defend their lives, and how to own their destiny in a world that does not always make room for them.
Todd Warfield’s new play, “Load More Guys,” which he also directs, is one of those important plays. It is brutally honest, full of candor and often very entertaining. It has its weaknesses, as does its production, but is nevertheless a compelling and educational experience.
It also is an eye-catching one. The play’s poster refashions the screen of a popular gay dating app, one used more often to attract spontaneous encounters than long-term relationships. There’s a grid of head shots, user names and informative symbols relating to users’ various sexual preferences. Most of the men appear shirtless or otherwise suggestive. And the play’s name – itself a bold double-entendre – splashes across this menu of men. In a starburst, the proclamation: “Absolutely no one under 18 will be admitted.”
This is all to say that it’s a show about sex: casual, intimate, random, polyamorous, extramarital and purchased sex. In his prologue, Michael Seitz, as central figure Tyler, spells that out in no uncertain terms. But also that this isn’t merely a play about the S-word. It’s a play about a population of people who, due to generations of societal, political and religious oppression, have been forced into the shadows.
In one example, Tyler argues that the very model of monogamy is a heterosexual construct, and therefore exclusionary of a homosexual narrative. In absence of a socially approved model for loving, consensual same-sex relationships, gay men have been forced to discover themselves underground, in the dark, without rules. “Closet” is not always a metaphor.
Seitz delivers this opening monologue with a fervor that feels revolutionary. It’s the tightest piece of writing in the play, full of vision, reverence, defiance and ownership. The rest of the play alternates between scenes, monologues and transitional interludes as performed by popular drag performer Mike Blasdell as Bebe Bvlgari, the latter indicative of escapist club culture.
Scenes show encounters and conversations between Tyler and his various contacts over the last two decades – Los Angeles in the 1990s and Buffalo from 2000 to the present. They strategically repeat a trope for Tyler: the awkward but honest admission of the L-word during intercourse. What role does love play in these adventurous connections, these desperate characters ask.
This is where Warfield’s play feels both historical and current. His monologues are piercing, fantastically written. His scenes are ordinary, though, and deflate the monologues’ air. As a whole, the play works as a mosaic of delivery methods, and is ultimately successful at conveying its message, though again, the writing is distinctly unbalanced.
Seitz threads the play together more than capably, and has sufficient, if sometimes lackluster, support. Joey Buheker’s monologue is utterly hilarious. Tyler Brown’s appearances as a porn actor are funny, too. Sean Murphy and David Spychalski have great moments alone and in scenes. Sean Marciniak rushes at times, but deposits moments of entertaining peculiarity, too. Aaron Mrowka, who makes his acting debut, appears much too uncomfortable with his lines, most of which are inaudible. Blasdell, in his revolving wardrobe, can do no wrong.
In all, it’s an awkward group, and these are awkward scenes, but when it shines, it shines. Warfield benefits from directing his own script, which isn’t always the case for playwrights. The play needs editing, but Warfield’s point is understood. Sex is political in any era. This is an unapologetic version of history that, in its forgiveness, insists that the only path to freedom – to love – is to find it within, and do the best you can with what you have.
3 stars (out of 4)
What: “Load More Guys”
Presented by: Buffalo United Artists
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday through March 12
Where: Alleyway Theatre, 1 Curtain Up Alley
Tickets: $25 general, $23 seniors (65 and older), $15 students. No one under 18 admitted.
Info: 886-9239, buffalobua.org