Joe DiPietro’s F**King Men at Waterloo East Theatre

A circular bed sits before panels which seamlessly shift from opaque to transparent, revealing flashes of the four men who stand silhouetted behind them. Cara Evans offers a simple yet versatile set, allowing numerous locations to be quickly established before we transition to another time and place. Julian Starr’s pulsating sound design complemented by Alex Lewer’s illusory lighting instantly injects energy. This could be the start of a music video and with a title as coarse as this, there are indications of a somewhat shallow and superficial evening ahead. For those unfamiliar with the play, however, it soon transpires that this is far from the case.

F**King Men - Photographer - Michaela Walshe.
F**King Men – Photographer – Michaela Walshe.

A loose retelling of Schnitzler’s La Ronde, Joe DiPietro’s one-act dissection of gay men carries startling depth and a delicate rawness in its tackling of subjects that even in 2024 are all too easily swept under the carpet. DiPietro is fearless in his beautifully open and honest depiction of homosexuality, celebrating what being gay is while unearthing its darker underbelly. Here we witness internalised homophobia, adultery, shame, cruelty and loneliness alongside the love and connection the ten characters of the play so desperately seek. It makes for a far more profound hour and a half than one might initially have expected.

There appears to be a rather healthy appetite for F**king Men in the capital. It premiered in 2008 at the Finborough and has enjoyed runs at The King’s Head Theatre and the Vaults before last year’s revered revival at the 100-seat Waterloo East. Steven Kunis’s incarnation now returns to this suitably intimate space. A new cast of four take the reins under Kunis. The director was praised for breathing further life into the play with some updated revisions which did not in any way detract from the essence of the original script but rather afforded it further relatability in the ever-changing world of the LGBTQ+ community. After all, Grindr was not in existence at the play’s inception, nor PrEP or such online platforms as Only Fans.

The ten characters are portrayed by four actors. Joe Bishop garners the most laughs as an eccentric yet earnest writer whose “artistic ambition is to be cancelled.” Rory Connolly impresses as a hooker whose playful and confident demeanour masks his loneliness, vulnerability and deep yearning to be loved. The actor also has great fun as an American college student who, despite his overt campness, insists he is bi. Jason Eddy convinces as the closeted marine before shifting to a married man who openly sleeps with other men while encouraging his spouse to do the same. As a Hollywood actor who finally wants to publicly come out, Eddy showcases excellent versatility. David Michaels again offers well-distinguished, nuanced characterisation as the unsure husband of Eddy, who ends up seeking sex in a dorm room and who worries he is becoming boring and tedious in his routines to the detriment of his marriage. As television journalist Donald, the actor portrays the tortured conflict residing in a public figure who, even in today’s world, does not feel he can be his true self. The cast work wonderfully together with each elevating the already strong material to even greater heights.

One can see why a second limited run of this revival was called for. Under Kunis’s thoughtful direction and through the high calibre performances of the cast, DiPetro’s modern classic enjoys a memorable and impactful realisation. While one could argue the work is deserving of a larger stage, there is something satisfying in the intimacy that only comes in off-West End venues. That intimacy mirrors the play’s spotlight on a world whose core intricacies are usually concealed beneath flamboyant facades but are here displayed in the most sensitive, emotive, and engaging of ways.

4 stars

Review by Jonathan Marshall

This dramatic comedy follows ten men through a series of erotic encounters that change their lives in small but significant ways.

In the raw and updated new version, Tony-winning writer Joe DiPietro takes a sharp and insightful look at the experiences of modern gay men as they navigate their conflicting desires for the comfort of monogamous love and the thrill of sexual freedom.

A modern retelling of Schnitzler’s infamous classic La Ronde, F**king Men is a fascinating, funny and provocative story of sex, love and connection.

Cast:
Joe Bishop
Rory Connolly
Jason Eddy
David Michaels

Creative Team:
Director Steve Kunis
Set and Costume Designer Cara Evans
Lighting Designer Alex Lewer
Sound Design Julian Starr
Movement & Intimacy Director Lee Crowley
Production Manager Carrie Croft
Casting Director Anne Vosser

https://www.waterlooeast.co.uk/

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