Music by The Delicious Moons
Produced by The New Colony
Playing at The Den Theatre, Chicago.
Brechtian Dubstep Porn for the Modern Theatre
“A trailer park fairy decides to become a pornstar because he wants to fall in love. Stanley, his hag, and a chorus of gay angels take off on the Road to Love. Along the way, they find Rod Fullalove, a beguiling pornstar, a man with a deep hole to fill. The powers of love and meaninglessness collide in this absurdist gay porn dance pop musical.”
That description comes from New Colony’s website, and I have a hard time imagining that after reading it, anyone will be unclear on whether or not this is a play they want to see. For those who do feel they need more information, Stanley in the Name of Love is a project long in development; while New Colony claims their shows typically take four to six months to devise, this one took two and a half years. That’s probably in part because it is a musical, with pre-recorded techno and dubstep beats by The Delicious Moons, a group made up partly of New Colony artistic staff members, including director Sean Kelly. And, because this is the sort of project you want to have built up some credibility for before mounting. For what it sets out to be, it’s actually not bad. Certainly, Stanly in the Name of Love delivers what it promises, and is surprisingly gentle and charming in some places.
In the beginning there were gay angels (Luke Grimes, Jeff Meyer, and Chris Tuttle). They created the world out of boredom, but then a bunch of nuclear wars happened, and scientists proved love doesn’t exist in nature, so everybody’s going to die. Unless, that is, the angels can find some pure soul who will teach humanity love again before the show ends, and the world will be saved. Enter Stanley (Steve Love), a callow youth who dresses like a post-apocalyptic Tin Man and is delighted to be part of gay club culture. He has a female friend, Harriet (Christina Boucher), who’s covered in boils, and he provides her with solace until her hag of a mother dies, so the angels decide Stanley’s their savior.
Through the use of magic doors, they transport him to a gay porn studio owned by the shady hedonist Burt (Hell in a Handbasket artistic director David Cerda). There, Stanley meets and instantly falls in love with the bear-type Rod Fullalove, who returns his love with lust, and defends him from Burt. It turns out Burt and Rod have a combative love-hate relationship, and Stanley’s barging in creates a love triangle (or possibly quadrangle, the angels are annoyed by Harriet’s continued presence). But Stanley’s and the angels’ hopes are complicated by Rod’s insistence that ecstatic trances are superior to emotions, and Stanley has to prove his affections are worthwhile.
In light of New Colony’s actor-inclusive process, it’s not surprising Stanley the character is designed to make use of Steve Love’s strengths. He’s boyishly cute and trusting, which Love accentuates by standing with his toes pointed inwards and speaking with a comically exaggerated lisp that borders on a speech impediment. Jeannine Stupka is credited as an “associate choreographer,” but Love is a choreographer himself, and fully makes use of his dance skills late in the show, though he moves gracefully throughout. All the roles are humorous, and the actors are dedicated to keeping them consistent. David Cerda’s Burt has a compassionate core underneath his cruel exterior; he is adamantly against condomless scenes and is oddly enough, the most human character in the play. The three angels are sort of annoying inept overseers, perhaps inspired by the three gods in Bertolt Brecht’s The Good Person of Szechuan, and Grimes, Meyer, and Tuttle make them slightly distinctive, while still being a coherent chorus.
A great deal of this play’s staging invokes and sends up the kinds of modernist European theatre conventions you commonly see employed by Oracle, Trap Door, TUTA, and Theatre Y. Though a few jokes are recycled from Urinetown, or may be even older, Kelly’s use of them is generally funny and appropriate for the script. And there’s no nudity, although the actors do joust at one point with prop cocks. John Kelly and Cody Ryan’s lighting design closely mimics the sort of techno bars the music is designed to invoke, and the actors lip-synch up until a point in the play when the characters first become jealous of each other, after which they sing live, indicating their deepening emotions. Curtis Castell’s costumes are visually striking and create an appreciable amount of spectacle in this fantastic world. Stanly in the Name of Love doesn’t add much new to philosophical musings on the nature of happiness, rather, it re-contextualizes old questions for a different audience. The dilemma, then, is whether the Boystown crowd will be interested in this type of theatre. Well, why not? It doesn’t condescend to them (except playfully), and it’s made by people who see themselves in the characters.
Reviewed August 8, 2015
For more information, see Stanley in the Name of Love’s page on Theatre in Chicago.
Playing at The Den Theatre, 1333 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago. Tickets are $20-25 with discounts for seniors and students; to order, visit thenewcolony.org. Playing Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 pm through August 29. Running time is eighty-five minutes with no intermission. There are talk-backs August 13, 20, and 27.