Do we stereotype gay men? Do we think we understand the conventions of a gay relationship? Are there even conventions to a gay relationship? F*cking Men explores and opposes what many may think is ‘the norm’ in the world of gay relationships. The play comprises ten duologues depicting a scenario where by two men talk about, have, or don’t have sex.
The play opens with an army solider, Harper James, meeting with a male escort, Chris Wills, where the ‘straight’ solider pays 40 pounds in return for his first experience of homosexual oral sex. The play runs with an effective quickness of pace and we are suddenly watching James and Ruben Jones, whose sparkling eyes would probably make may men consider coitus with him, make eyes at one another in a sauna which rapidly escalates into a sexual encounter. Jones, the graduate student, and Euan Brockie, the eighteen year old ‘bisexual and has a girlfriend’ student have a dynamic and convincing energy on stage. Over the next few scenes we began to see the more tragic side of a stereotypical gay relationship.
A beautiful and heartfelt scene between married couple played by Richard De Lisle and Jonathan McGarrity puts the ideology of monogamy to question. McGarrity is captivating and heart breaking in equal measure as the husband who forces himself to find men online in order to ‘keep up’ with his anti-monogamy husband. A duologue between Darren Bransford, well known for his part in Hollyoaks, who plays the playwright and Haydn Whiteside, the porn star is an unusual though seemingly deliberate dynamic. Here we see two characters unlikely to be put together aesthetically or artistically, and yet here they are munching Doritos together and conversing about sex. I wondered why.
I believe what Joe DiPietro is trying to portray is that there simply is no stereotype. There are no two men who should or shouldn’t be together. There are no definite rules that say a couple should be monogamous or not. There is nothing to say that an army soldier who says he is straight can’t enjoy oral sex with a man. These things happen and they are ok. Or are they? As the play develops we see the characters and relationships mature and progress as each scene of the play evolves. It is as though, at the start, we see young men discovering and exploring all the excitement and liberty of promiscuity, and it’s fun and it’s amusing. The middle of the play centres on the logistics and stereotypical rules of a long-term homosexual relationship. Monogamy is highly questioned and we witness the advantages but also the hurt and pain behind the reality of a well-practiced homosexual convention. It is clear at this point that DiPietro is trying to break these conventions.
But I believe his biggest message, his most poignant idea and the whole apex of what this play is about can be summed up in one simple quote: “it still matters what you do with your dick”. This comes in the final two scenes. The tragic and overwhelmingly powerful ending centres on Richard Stemp, the journalist, and Johnathan Neal, the actor. Two happily married men with children, both closeted because their jobs put them in the public eye. The journalist, also a successful Television chat show host, is the oldest character in the play, and it is this character’s wisdom and experience that broke my heart last night.
After the married, straight actor is forced to declare a homosexual indiscretion with the playwright his next Hollywood movie is pulled just before the start of production. Of course this is because the script was suddenly not complete. But the audience knows the truth…times have changed but “it still matters what you do with your dick”. Stemp’s performance was so powerful because it was real; I felt his pain, his loss and his maturity. After loosing his lover to AIDS a few years previous and remaining closeted throughout in order to keep his career safe, I felt so angry and helpless because I knew and agreed that the character had done the right thing in terms of his career by staying closeted; it simply should not be that way.
On the face of it a play titled F*cking Men may give the impression you are going to watch some crude comedy about homosexual males ‘fucking’ however this is truly one of the most beautiful and inspiring plays I have ever seen. This is brave work by a group of admirable actors. What defines a gay man? What defines a gay relationship? What even defines love? F*cking Men answers these questions by saying there are no answers. There is no such thing as a stereotypical gay man, and it’s time people realise that.
F*cking Men is playing at the King’s Head Theatre until 30 August. For more information and tickets, see the King’s Head Theatre website. Photo by Christpher Tribble.