By Michael H. Margolin
Jason Sebacher’s play at The New Theatre Project, nestled into a small room behind the Mix, a boutique of women’s clothing and vintage articles, makes the action and the audience into one tight ball. As you enter you must negotiate over and around pieces of clothing, pill bottles and empty alcohol bottles. At one end, at floor level, a slanted mirror and opposite, a painting of a nude male from the genitals up.
In the center, a tacky, thin mattress and a sheet of dubious cleanliness. And two men in underwear, each curled up in sleep, apart, though that they have had a sexual encounter is clear. Even before they awaken, the drama begins. Nice.
Sebacher is searching for realities about men who love men and the slavish devotion to youth; he goes, knowingly, to Oscar Wilde and the infamous love affair for which he was accused of being a “posing sodomite” and which sent him to jail when he foolishly sued for libel. He mixes it with Wilde’s brilliant story of Dorian Grey who lives a dissolute life while his portrait, in a closet, shows the ugliness of his life as he remains young. There is an interchange between the two men where the use of Wilde’s name provokes the biggest laugh – there are some – of the evening. I was not sure it was intentional.
But, I am getting ahead of myself: the two men. There is the one we later learn is Oscar, and Alfie. Alfie (Ben Stange) awakens and ponders the sleeping Oscar (Evan Mann), whether with regret, curiosity or pleasure, we wonder. Or perhaps just his youth and beauty, for Mann is tall, lithe and beautifully formed with a mop of curly dark hair falling over a handsome brow. Earlier this year, he gave a fine performance in “Equus” at Blackbird Theatre and, as he did there, he appears naked and natural and adept at simulating sex.
Alfie, shorter, softer of physique, has an open face and short dark hair and is shamefaced to admit to Oscar that he is 30 years old – in Wilde’s world and in Sebacher’s, too, perhaps, the slippery slope to aged oblivion: “You have fun when you’re young and watch young people when you’re old,” Oscar says, not quite an epigram worthy of Wilde, but a clever one.
The two men banter, argue, arouse one another in what seems an endless dance of sex and sadness. In scene three, Oscar asks Alfie, “Have you ever tried to…(kill yourself)?” He answers in the affirmative. As the play, just under an hour and a half, moves on, they step on each others’ exposed nerves and there are quick shifts as Oscar slips into the character of Oscar Wilde after his humiliating term in jail and Alfie becomes Bosie, his younger lover. (There are several interludes between scenes in which the men perform movement, created by Brian Carbine, in half light, twisting and turning with the bed-sheet. Unless it is a reference to Wilde’s play “Salome” – God forbid – I will admit I didn’t get it. Time passing?)
The New Theatre Project at Mix Performance Space, 130 W. Michigan Ave., Ypsilanti. Friday-Sunday through Aug. 21. Contains strong language, simulated sex, drug use and nudity. No one under the age of 18 will be admitted without a parent or guardian. $15. 734-645-9776. http://www.thenewtheatreproject.org