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Sleeping With Straight Men
(Photo: Kent Taylor)
There are moments in writer-director Ronnie Larsen's new comedy Sleeping With Straight Men that demonstrate the potential for an interesting evening of theater, but those moments are obscured by shallow writing, superficial acting, and missed opportunities. The play is based loosely on the 1995 Jenny Jones Show incident where Scott Amedure confessed his "secret crush" on his heterosexually identified pal Jonathan Schmitz on national television, only to be murdered by Schmitz a few days later.

The sensationalistic story made national headlines and led to a 25-50 year jail sentence for Schmitz and a $25 million award to Amedure's family against Jones's show (later overturned). Larsen's play sets out to satirize the situation but only succeeds in a provocative but unfulfilled setup and in brief flashes of humor. The legendary Mink Stole gives a hilarious performance as talk show host Jill Johnson. Additionally, the pre-show antics of Stanley (Jared Scott) and Lee (Aaron Wimmer) as they prepare to meet on the Jill Johnson Show are somewhat amusing and underscore the characters' desire for a brief splash of fame and a way out of their dead end lives in Pontiac, Michigan.

The main problem is that the production doesn't go far enough to make this an effective parody, and the script is not deep enough to make it a serious play. Sleeping With Straight Men is too sentimental for its own good and never adequately deals with the issues of class that it brings up; a sharper satirical edge or a more farcical staging could have made all the difference. One of the more effective devices in the show is the lip-synching of several songs by Stanley's drag queen pal Sally (New York's own drag diva Hedda Lettuce). These numbers undercut and comment on the proceedings, but even they don't go far enough. Paul Simon's "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover" and Mariah Carey's "Hero" do not exactly make for incisive social commentary, and the songs are played more for cheap laughs than anything else.

Nor does Larsen give his actors much to work with in terms of character development, although some fare better than others. Scott's cute appearance and eager grin are not enough to make up for his stilted acting and dimensionless performance. Wimmer comes across better, his facial expressions conveying a range of emotions that lend credence to Lee's conflicted thoughts and actions. The production suffers further from being housed in the Maverick Theatre, which has some of the worst sightlines of any such venue in New York: Large support pillars block the audience's view of a significant amount of the stage and the rake of the seating is virtually non-existent, so that much of the action is obscured by the heads of the people in front of you.

The worst offense of all is that the play reduces a horrible crime to a simplistic sex fantasy. I am reminded of a moment in Jonathan Tolins's far superior new play The Last Sunday in June, currently playing downtown at the Rattlestick Theatre. A character chastises his fellow gay male friends during a debate over who was the hottest guy involved in the O.J. Trial. "Two people are dead," he explodes. "Does everything have to be reduced to a sex joke?" Ronnie Larsen, whose previous credits include such hits as Making Porn, 10 Naked Men, and Peep Show, would undoubtedly answer "yes" to that question. I'm not opposed to finding the humor within a horrible tragedy; in fact, that's the basis for some of the best plays and other forms of literature ever created. But there needs to be something more involved to give such a work substance and meaning. In this respect, Sleeping With Straight Men is sorely lacking.

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