Tucked down a dingy outside staircase and hallway, past an odd Hemp retail shop, there is door to a basement apartment. It’s not cute, by any means, or theatrical (but maybe cinematically seedy) but within that space, we find something that, at least for the night, is a theatre. And within that pipe-exposed studio apartment, we find the US premiere of Bleach, a surprisingly thoughtful and intriguing play by the British playwright, Dan Ireland-Reeves (Double Negative, Man Enough). It’s a one man coke snorting rollercoaster ride that is getting quite the reception throughout Europe and the UK, and it’s no wonder, with the hand clasping guidance of the handsome sexy Tyler, a compelling twenty-four-year-old who sells his body on a nightly basis, at the helm, leading the way through the dark twists and turns of a hustler’s wild and video worthy night. Portrayed on the night we went by the smooth angel faced Eamon Yates (Main Street Theatre’s Northanger Abbey), who alternates the role with Brendan George (FringeNYC’s No Sympathy For the Wolf), things go terribly wrong this one particular night, spiraling violently out of control making the young hustler question what he is capable of, and what he is willing to see and pretend to ignore. All for the sake of the rent money.
Like so many young people, Tyler bussed his way to New York City, only to find out that it can be a most ungracious host. Many by steadfast force, struggle through each day and night, working hard and making tips at a restaurant or a bar, barely making ends meet. It’s not really the dream they imagined, but it is better, in a way, than the drabness and boredom they ran away from in small town America. This is the case for Tyler, but on one particularly trying night out, as he tries to find relief from a broken heart in the mad gay world of Manhattan, he discovers, almost by accident, a way to make ends meet so much easier. All he has to do is use his sexy ass body and his devilishly handsome grin to gather up the rent easily and quickly. And have all kinds of sexy fun while doing it. It’s hot, exciting, and thrilling; so much better than busing tables (which was one fact I found hard to believe) in Chinatown. He discovers he’s a natural, in many ways, mostly naked. Not the greatest of dancers, but perfectly attuned to tease, seduce, and lure the hundred-dollar bills out of rich man’s pockets. It seems perfect for this wide-eyed young man, with flexible morals.
It’s a centuries old story, but as written in this solo site-specific show, directed with a free-flowing ease by Zack Carey (Boylesque – starring RuPaul’s Drag Race star Mimi Imfurst at The Laurie Beechman Theatre), it’s an engaging adventure, and as intoxicating as I’m sure it is for every man who has had the pleasure of Tyler’s sensual company. Thrown to the curb by a romantic dream, Tyler and his moral compass fall fast down the rabbit hole of gay boy prostitution, discovering the tricks of the trade (pardon the pun), cocaine-fueled escapist pleasure, and the many ways this easy rough-play dream can go so bloody wrong. So, as he rolls out from underneath the covers, naked and comfortable in his own presence, to get his mojo on, the light of the laptop illuminates his handsome boyish face, caressing it seductively as he begins his Alice Through The Looking Glass story. With overly simplistic lighting and stage management by Jake Lemmenes, the barest of costumes and apropos props by Max Ruby, a solidly accessorized set (including the bathroom) by Joyce Hahn, and sound design by Robert Kent, the downfall takes on a mad hatted life of its own. I did have momentary fantasies of a production that utilized a few more theatrical lighting tricks and more inventive blocking and stagecraft, but Bleach is as straight forward as it comes, but maybe it shouldn’t really be. I wished Ireland-Reeves took more risks within his hustler’s fall from morals story, daring us to envision something a lot darker and more psychologically fraught than what we see before us. The director also could have utilized his audience and the seediness of the space a bit more seductively and creatively, forcing us all to fall with him and feel the force of what should have been sexy, experimental, and dangerous. But there is very little danger in the ass-slapping dynamic. It’s almost akin to straight forward story-telling but the momentum of the story does find its way into the ten heads of the audience in the basement watching. It does keep you listening to the engaging and handsome young actor, throwing his talented self around the tiled room with a flamboyant ease. We care about this young man, and even through some of the more traditional moments of the melo-mono-drama seem too safe for this sex worker’s messiness, Bleach cleanly and efficiently gets the job done, taking away the soiled mess, and giving us all a good clean night of fun in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
Oddly enough, there is a fun bar/restaurant one block away called Father Knows Best. Great for a drink and bite before or after. Wondering if it should change its name, just for the run of this show, to something along the lines of Daddy Knows Best, or maybe, What Daddy Doesn’t Know, Won’t Hurt Him.
BLEACH runs January 4 – March 10, with performances at 7pm & 9pm daily. Tyler’s Basement is located at 637 Wilson Avenue at the corner of Cooper Street in Bushwick, Brooklyn – directly off of the L train at Wilson Avenue. Running time is 65 minutes. Contains nudity, no one under 18 is permitted to attend. Tickets are $30 – $50 at 212-352-3101 http://www.SpinCycleNYC.com.