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Review: It's More Than Sex for Two Middle-Aged Men Hooking Up in The Gold Room

Jacob Perkins's new psychological fantasia is running at HERE.

Robert Stanton and Scott Parkinson star in The Gold Room, written by Jacob Perkins and directed by Gus Heagerty at HERE.
(© Maria Baranova)

The aquarium-like set designed by Emona Stoykova for Jacob Perkins's new play The Gold Room, with its solitary couch, shag rug, and artificial palm in the corner, has the look of low-budget, 1970s porn. That may be intentional given the play's premise: two middle-aged men meeting for an evening of casual sex. But if you're coming to see some onstage salaciousness, you'll leave bitterly disappointed. What Perkins gives us instead in this 55-minute two-hander, now running at HERE, is a shakily constructed fantasia of the traumas experienced by gay men of a certain age.

Robert Stanton and Scott Parkinson power through Perkins's wobbly script with convincing performances as two middle-aged men geared up for a night of anonymous boot-knocking. Perkins keeps the men nameless too, referring to them as One (Stanton) and Two (Parkinson). The play begins with the pair awkwardly meeting in Two's apartment, and neither of them appears all that eager to get down to business. One prefers instead to ramble on about nightmares of having chlamydia (how's that for sexy talk?). But then the scene suddenly loses whatever sexual charge it had when Two enters holding martinis in his hands and tells One that he won't be moving forward with One's play, the subject matter of which is a little too salty for his intended audience. What just happened?

It takes a moment to realize that, without warning, Two has transformed into a theater producer and the scene has changed to an office of some kind. We soon discover similar shifts occurring in all the scenes that follow and that they are taking place in One's subconscious: Two gives One detailed advice about how to be penetrated for the first time; Two (now a proctologist) gives One an anal exam; and eventually, Two becomes One's father, who, surprisingly, seems pretty much OK with his son's sexuality.

This kind of disorienting storytelling could have become tiresome rather quickly if not for Stanton and Parkinson, whose performances buoy the script, which, to be fair, does contain some insightful and funny dialogue. At the heart of all this shapeshifting and scene-changing are poignant moments in which One admits to his fear of judgment and his recurring sense of shame, emotions that most men who have sex with men have to face at some point in their lives, and which were near universal for those born before the AIDS epidemic. It's in those moments that Perkins's writing shines and surmounts the awkward structure of his play. Director Gus Heagerty knows when to let Perkins's humor through too, and Stanton and Parkinson deliver the laughs with ease.

That and other aspects of this production keep it from becoming monotonous, at least until the final dreary scene during which we must listen to an extended recording of a voice while One and Two sit motionless watching television. Taul Katz's sound and greer x's bright golden lighting often work in tandem to create tension in some of the play's emotionally charged scenes, and the transparent walls of Stoykova's set provide a claustrophobic fishbowl atmosphere throughout that heightens One's sense of feeling trapped in the Gold Room. Alas, it heightens ours too.