I Wanna Destroy You
nytheatre.com review by Ed Malin
May 19, 2013
Kathy Searle & Preston Martin in a scene from I Wanna Destroy You | Matthew Murphy
It's New York during the summer of 2011 (just before the vote that finally legalized same-sex marriage) and one can see a spectrum of gay standards of living. In Chelsea, "the queens look just like the jocks that used to beat them up". In Bushwick, less prosperous folks like roommates Mick (Kieran Mulcare), a waiter, and Beau (Anthony Johnston), a personal assistant who is turning 30 today, try to get through the summer heat. Mick, who was recently assaulted and slashed and so does not feel secure or employable in the universe of New York, has been dating Beau for eight years. Beau is employed as assistant to somewhat abusive author Cecile (Geneva Carr). Happy to have a gay man for "girl talk", Cecile is promoting her latest soft-core romance novel and planning her fourth wedding, to manly man Hal (Jamie Jackson). Cecile has a wedding planner, Daphne (Kathy Searle), who knows Beau through Mick, and who is sleeping with Hal. Hal picked up Daphne next to the stuffed Dodo bird at the Museum of Natural History. Bad heterosexuals....
While Cecile terrorizes everyone over insignificant issues related to her wedding dress, the great pacificator arrives. Jim (Preston Martin) is Daphne's gay roommate, confidant, Alcoholics Anoymous sponsor, and assistant wedding planner. With a lowering of his sunglasses or a flick of his fan, he can stop most anyone from freaking out (except Cecile, for whom Xanax was created). As another rude awakening for Hal, Cecile the romance writer is frigid. Beau is worried that Mick will give up on New York and head back to his ancestral home in gay-unfriendly Kentucky, but, self-deprecatingly, he asks why he, who can't get married, is planning the fourth wedding for a generally undeserving lady who will never treat him like a person. In a world without gay marriage, he will never be Snow White, only one of the happy woodland creatures around her. Drunk by this point, Beau lashes out at the symbol of his indenture: the $175,000 wedding dress. The stakes are now very, very high. Unlike the Dodo bird, which suddenly died out after centuries of living in an environment where there was no need to adapt, the gay men of New York are very close to a life-defining change.
In the world of comedy, Beau, Mick and Daphne make you happy by being down on their luck. It's great to see them hold onto their dignity in front of Cecile (whom they label a "fagonizer"). And since it's a comedy, there is some compassion both for Cecile--so lonely over the three husbands and countless assistants she's lost--and for Jim--soon to be a hairdresser, OK with always being the exploited gay friend. Yet, the play is conscious of itself as history. Things have changed immensely in the nearly two years since New York got marriage equality. Even this month, after three US states and France passed such laws, I try to remember what world we were living in before. Director Dan Horrigan captures some of the nostalgia and insanity by showing us characters on a journey. To see if anyone is going back to Kentucky, you're going to have to see the play. David L. Arsenault's sets frame several locales under tall, urban girders. Walls spring open and furniture rolls out to create new scenes; it moves the action along nicely and creates tension between things personal and impersonal. Nicole Wee's costumes are delightfully vibrant. The details, from Jim's hairstyle to Cecile's shoes, would be at home in some Victorian novels.