From the start it’s obvious that Lucas Brooks, the writer/star of VGL 5’4” Top, has issues: issues with his body, issues with being categorized and issues with the gay community.
The title loosely translates to “very good-looking short guy who wants to assume the dominant position in male-to-male sex.” It’s shorthand used on all-male social networks such as Grindr and Scruff to advertise your appearance and sexual preferences. In his one-man show, Brooks rants about his struggles to fit into specific gay subgroups such as bear, twink, etc. The author of Top To Bottom, a popular blog about gay culture and sexuality, Brooks is obviously no prude. But VGL 5’4” Top feels like a blog plopped onstage or a lecture on the gay community’s shallowness and preoccupation with labels.
Brooks speaks at length about not wanting to be judged solely for his appearance (and specifically for his height), yet he himself judges lovers for not knowing what the play The Laramie Project is or their modesty about nudity in public places, among other things. It’s a convenient hypocrisy that has more than a whiff of bitchiness — a trait Brooks also ironically condemns in his fellow gays.
At the beginning of the 50-minute show, Brooks appears in black underwear, a hoodie, and black socks. Showing up half naked and stripping off the hoodie ten minutes in leaves him with nothing to build toward. Isn’t one of the cardinal rules of show biz to “always leave them wanting more”? Why not start completely clothed then progressively strip as the show goes on? That way when you get to the big finish, you’re not just emotionally but physically bare.
Brooks is brave to get onstage and lay out his insecurities, frustrations and sexual experiences so openly. And I applaud that. But theater is about performance. Even when you’re playing yourself, you have to become a character. VGL 5’4” Top has only a few forays into that, when Brooks acts like one of his tricks or a former lover. Unfortunately, director Matthew Klein doesn’t seem to have offered his star any guidance on how to create a performance as opposed to a diatribe. As a result, the show turns out to be preachy when it should be provocative.
Self-awareness is one of the hardest things to achieve for anyone — gay or straight. But realizing that you don’t completely fit into a specific mold is not at all unique. In VGL 5’4” Top, Brooks acts as if he’s the only gay man who struggles with his body image and who doesn’t adhere to the stereotypes prevalent in the gay community. And the show suffers because of that.