Three's Company

With gay marriage and civil unions more common in urban centers, it was inevitable that gay sex comedies would become a genre to be explored. Terrence McNally broke the first ground with The Ritz back in 1975. Since then there have been a number of gays-gathering-for-a-weekend plays, but few that examine aspects of gays in committed parental relationships. Peter Mercurio’s ambitious Two Spoons examines what happens when two men who are in a committed relationship and raising a son are presented with the opportunity for a three-way during a business trip to Philadelphia. It’s a premise that sometimes holds the promise of a gay version of The Seven-Year Itch, but it ends up a muddle.

To be fair, Two Spoons means to be more than a farce, and it frequently exhibits a serious tone. Mercurio’s two protagonists, Grant James Varjas’s neurotic, twitchy Steve and Brian Gillespie’s centered, easygoing Larry, convey the struggles of all parents with being role models, instilling discipline, and nurturing the talents of their offspring (a 3-year-old named Matthew). But, in their seventh year together, during a weekend away from New York, they find themselves in a steam room being cruised by a young stud and tempted into a threesome.

Like Tom Ewell in The Seven-Year Itch, they fumble their way through a seduction with gentle humor and later fantasize about other possibilities. The objects of their lust are all played by a cherub-faced Thomas Flannery, Jr., who resembles a muscular Tintin, quiff and all. Varjas and Gillespie show off skillful timing and genuine chemistry, and their scenes have a natural give-and-take; they’re a solid core for a play that stumbles when they’re not working together, and sometimes even when they are.

Mercurio knows the way a couple operates (he and his partner have a child, according to the program notes) and has tapped that to create two characters who are genuine and likeable. But he has also chosen a fluid, often incoherent, structure. It relies heavily on narration, as Steve and Larry address the audience and explain what they’re feeling during a lot of narrative crosstalk.

Under Chuck Blasius’s direction, the switches from narration to scenes, or reality to fantasy, aren’t as cleanly made as they should be, and a good deal of confusion results. And until the first-act curtain, following an overlong seduction scene (nicely choreographed by Robin Carrigan and lighted with strobes by Rob Hilliard like a silent film), it’s not clear where the play is going. But Steve has been transformed by the encounter, and wants to “leave the door ajar” for more fooling around.

As universal themes go, whether or not gay parents should have extramarital sex is a niche issue, but it fits snugly into the mission of Other Side Productions, which presents plays of interest to the gay community. The point of Mercurio’s work seems to be that explicit rules must be set forth for parents as they are for children. But the child as presented here is the most problematic and negligible character.

Described by Steve’s mother as “three going on 23,” the toddler speaks like a teenager, quotes Benjamin Franklin’s aphorisms, and takes on numerous bit parts, including a waiter at Franklin’s favorite tavern and a towel boy at the hotel, both of whom Steve mistakes for Matthew. Now, no child of 3 is likely to have personality traits that summon a grown-up doppelganger, no matter how fanciful Steve’s imagination is. The character is simply too diffuse for the actor DeVon Jackson to make convincing, let alone engaging.

There is some good writing, though, side by side with the problematic, and the production raises an interesting philosophical issue about stage nudity. Mercurio’s script specifies that it’s not necessary for this play and is, in his opinion, distracting. But nudity has been around since Hair 40 years ago, and if there is such a thing as gratuitous nudity, there must, conversely, be essential, or at least reasonable, nudity. When the sex object in a sex farce (or that part of the play written as such) is demurely covered by a dancer’s belt, it becomes just as distracting. More important, it leaves anyone who hasn’t read Mercurio’s stipulation with the unfair impression that the actor is not fully committed to what would seem to be the needs of the role.

Two Spoons has some accomplished acting, and with some editing and tightening, and a more consistent tone, it might work, but at present it carries promise more than anything else.

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