Although the slang term for heterosexuals is the title of Dan Giles’s new play, it doesn’t technically apply to the main human characters, a gay couple, but rather to a pair of hamsters that they are looking after. Giles’s amusing and well-acted comedy has a great deal to say about both sexual and parental love; about the open discussion necessary to keep relationships functioning; and about the neuroses that all couples in the animal kingdom experience.
Its leading men, Mikey (Alton Alburo) and Dean (Jacob Perkins), are stressed out because their surrogate is about to give birth to their child. At the same time, Dean is taking care of his sister’s hamsters. As the play opens, he is astonished to find them in sexual congress, since both are supposed to be males. In fact, only one is a male. Perhaps borrowing a leaf from Edward Albee’s Seascape, Giles makes his rodent characters as fascinating and compelling as the human ones. The result is sometimes a lark, but just as often the comedy overlays a smartly observed, seriously philosophical look at relationships and how they function.
First among equals in the talented cast is Perkins as the gently neurotic Dean. He is eager for the news that the baby he and Mikey are planning to have by surrogate has been delivered. He’s frantic because Zoe, the birth mother, hasn’t contacted them despite his texts, and she is due. At the same time, he becomes obsessed with his sister’s hamsters and their sexual habits. Perkins invests Dean with a nerdy paranoia, gentleness, and stress, supplying a deft comic spin to his lines:
Look how funny they are. They’re done now. The little one’s in the wooden hut nibbling on a pellet and big one’s curled up in the plastic tube. If they were people, they’d be cuddling, but they’re as far away from each other as they could possibly be. Like if they’d met at a bar, one of the hamsters would be all like, “Just so you know, the buses stop running in half an hour, so….”
Nor is the loopy conversation confined to the humans. Jason, the male hamster (a goofy, lovestruck Fernando Gonzalez), tries to prolong the affection after sex with Tyson, the female, but he gets the cold shoulder. “I have a lot on my mind, Jason,” she says. “Maybe that’s an unfamiliar feeling for you. It’s like being hungry but in your brain.”
Giles’s simple story holds a variety of canny observations about life, including male dominance and power vs. nurturing and affection; the need for intimacy and honesty; and the fear of taking on the responsibility of children. Happily, director Jaki Bradley keeps the various elements modulating smoothly as the story encompasses some unusually grim moments.
Ironically, it’s Lea McKenna-Garcia’s bottled-up female, Tyson, who’s the dominant hamster, and Jason who has a romantic bent. “It’s hard to pick a favorite part,” he says of their first sexual mating. “But if I had to pick, I think the thing I liked about it most was when you said you loved me.” Tyson refuses to repeat that she loves Jason, however. And back in the human world, Dean understands it all.
Mikey: How are our hamsters today?
Dean: They’re nocturnal, so they slept most of the day. Separate corners.
Mikey: So they hate each other.
Dean: No, they’re just having a fight. They’re in love.
The fighting, or discontent, soon becomes parallel in the strained relations of Mikey and Dean, who have been together since they were teens; neither has dated anyone else seriously, although they’ve taken two breaks. They are, however, a true couple, and Perkins and Alburo have a persuasive chemistry so that one cares about their future. But their sex life has cooled as the parenting responsibilities near—for Dean in particular. In addition, he tells Mikey, “sometimes when I’m anxious you try to use sex to make me feel better, and then it becomes about taking care of your feelings and affirming your masculinity.”
Sex and love, it turns out, are equally as complicated in the hamster world.
Tyson: The thing is, Jason, we won’t be doing what we did for a while. I won’t be in heat again until after I give birth.
Jason: How long will that be?
Tyson: Hard to say, exactly.
Jason: Days? Weeks? I ask because our entire life expectancy is only two years.
Before the situations are resolved, one is treated to some gruesomely atavistic behavior and a hilarious diatribe against Neil Patrick Harris that is so over-the-top the producers put a disclaimer in the program. If Harris were to see the play, however, one suspects he wouldn’t mind. He would probably try to get the talented Giles to write something for him.
The New Light Theater Project’s production of Breeders plays through Oct. 14 at the Access Theater (380 Broadway, at White Street, two blocks south of Canal). Evening performances are at 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and at 7 p.m. Sundays; matinees are at 3 p.m. Saturdays. To purchase tickets, visit newlighttheaterproject.com.