nytheatre.com review by Jack Hanley
August 21, 2009
A spurious and short-sited generalization is the overriding theme of Tearoom Tango: gay men who have sex in bathrooms are sad, lonely beings who are desperate for human contact and are probably infected with HIV. Director Jessica Jane Witham doesn't help when she writes in her program note "...it is the overwhelming arms of societal pressure that push them into closets and bathrooms." So, having anonymous sex in bathrooms is akin to the misery of being in the closet? I know she didn't intend to offend anyone, but like the play, she did.
I found it especially odd that playwright Douglas Holtz would prominently reference a scene from Prick Up Your Ears, the film bio of Joe Orton. Orton celebrated illicit sex in his plays as a means to satirize conservative culture. But Holtz's play only helps affirm the myopic mainstream belief that men who have anonymous sex with men (in bathrooms of all places) are troubled souls incapable of maintaining a normal relationship. Orton surely would have preferred to be referenced in a riskier play, one that depicted men who find the experience sexually satisfying, or liberating, or tantalizing as a rebellious or political act.
As you might have guessed, the play takes place in a public bathroom. It is inhabited by six men who are regular visitors. They grope and grind as one after the other breaks away from the sex to deliver a monologue directly to the audience. All of the actors give commendable performances helped by Witham's nuanced direction.
Holtz is a fine writer. His monologues on aging, loneliness, and sexual confusion are often raw and insightful, but a play that depicts every gay character as wholly tragic is at best dated. Worse, it seems the play allows its audience to assume that men who have anonymous sex in public places are deeply unhappy or unstable—a somewhat dangerous myth in my opinion.