By Bill Hirschman
The strength and simultaneous vulnerability of non-sexual but emotionally intimate friendships among ordinary people, fully akin to love, are not focuses you see often center stage in 20th Century theater.
But in 21st Century works, written by a new generation of playwrights reflecting the far different world they live in, these deep but sincere non-traditional relationships and their complexities are increasingly in the spotlight.
Such is I Wanna Fucking Tear You Apart, a deep dive into the tragic deterioration of the 15-year bond of two would-be writers nearing 30. Leo is an openly gay man and Samantha is an overweight straight woman who laughingly refer to themselves as Team FatGay.
How specific audience members embrace this co-production of Morgan Gould’s script from Island City Stage and the Atlanta-based Out Front Theatre likely will vary wildly.
Younger theatergoers will be gratified and feel acknowledged for a play that depicts complex contemporary people struggling with personal issues they recognize all too well. Older patrons might have less patience watching these self-involved flawed protagonists protractedly flail all over the place in a downward spiral of their own making.
What should unite both sets of ticket buyers is the kinship that almost everyone secretly feels with people who have coped with their inability to fit into “mainstream society” by pointedly declaring themselves outsiders — too smart, too hip to be judged by traditional standards.
The play initially covers one-scene-a-month vignettes during a year of Leo and Sam’s life in the two-bedroom apartment they share. The pair who began living together in college are integrally bonded, sitting on a coach slamming the contestants on Top Chef on TV, dancing wildly, playing Super Mario, crawling over each other with affectionate hugs, reacting simultaneously with shared catch phrases, teasing about each other’s sex lives with unrestrained bluntness.
Gould lets this go on and on, ostensibly to give this arc a seemingly unshakeable starting place and thereby making the crumbling all the more upsetting. They toss water droplets at each other while at the kitchen sink. They debate whether either would sleep with someone who was HIV.
But Sam, whose day jobs are writing grants and ghostwriting young adult ripoff fiction, is seriously working on a novel made up of her heroine’s texts, online status posts and food diaries. Leo, who works for a Buzzfeed type agency, toys with poems and short stories, but is not remotely as disciplined or likely to finish anything.
Two crucial elements enter the relationship: Over time, Sam finishes and sells her novel while Leo has kept putting off his work. And Leo brings home a pretty, aggressively amiable coworker Chloe with whom he is building a friendship. Sam attacks that Chloe is the kind of uber-straight person “we used to make fun of in college.”
While the two roomies could not be closer or more supportive of each other – and despite their repeated denials — Leo is jealous of Sam’s success and Sam is jealous of his new friendship. Those envies slowly poison their connection until the once-invisible – perhaps previously non-existent – cracks split into pain and rage.
Indeed, there is a revelation late in the show that you don’t see coming because, frankly, what you’ve seen of their love so far makes it inconceivable – although after a while you can nearly buy it as borderline credible. Perhaps that’s Gould’s ultimate point – that there is no such thing as an inviolable invulnerable relationship in contemporary society.
A hint: The play’s title comes from a 2006 light tune by a bubble gum pop group called She Wants Revenge and, I think, is the abrasive version pounding through the intimate Island City Stage venue as the pre-curtain music.
The script does drag a bit as Gould spends more time than necessary over and over documenting the affection. And when insisting on setting one scene in each month, one tableau is – I’m not making this up – 15 seconds of Leo starting to cut his toenails. Then blackout. It echoes the climactic moment stolen directly from the denouement in Long Day’s Journey Into Night.
But then there are Gould’s outstanding moments of almost reportorial insights of the scorching angst inside today’s young people. Later in the play, Chloe cuts through the conversational niceties and asks Sam directly why she hates her.
Gould has Sam fire back with a harshness and cruelty we don’t expect from her, but in retrospect only has been building:
“Okay. You want me to be honest? I really, sincerely don’t hate you. I just. I don’t give two fucks about you. You see, girls like you. You’re all the same. You confuse distinterest for dislike. I am disinterested in you. I know. I know this must come as a great shock. You walk around with people wanting to know more about you. With people asking about you. And caring about you. And people generally liking you as you say. But I am not one of those people. Because I know you. I know your kind and I’m not impressed. You are not impressive to me. Because you and I. We are not the same. We’re not some sort of “fun sisters in the fight.” I am not generally liked. And I do not generally like you. And that’s Okay. Not everyone has to like you. Maybe you need to think a little less about being liked, and a little more about being a fucking interesting human.”
Scenes later, Chloe answers back evenly, “I know you think my life is easy, Sam; I know you think I’m basic. But I know how to play a role. I’m a woman, too. And since the moment I met you, you’ve cast me as the villain. So I let you. To get along. To fill the void. To be the thing that was needed. I’m good at giving people what they want. The problem is, I’ve never actually been the enemy here. No matter how hard you tried to make me. Because with my friends? I usually just get brunch. Sometimes there’s a baby shower.”
Matthew Busch and Sofía Palmero are Atlanta actors who created their roles in the show’s first production. They skillfully inhabit these complex characters with the initial aid of Melissa Foulger who directed that production. Their experience with the dialogue keeps the play moving smoothly.
Busch spends the first half of the evening embracing every classic gay male physicalization from the cocked head to flapping arms, plus fey vocalizations. But Busch never makes them seem pasted on or artificially adopted stereotypes. Still, as the evening continues and the stakes increase, all of that fades away scene by scene until by the final scene in which what seemed natural in the beginning would now seem manufactured affectation if he had maintained them.
Like Busch, Palmero exudes Sam’s sense of feeling that the outside world will only stereotype her physical bulk and not acknowledge Sam’s inner talent and intelligence. Her Sam might secretly wish she had that approval, but she thoroughly and publicly rejected those criteria as false.
Chloe is played here by local actress Casey Sacco (terrific in Ronnie Larsen Presents’ Red Speedo). As per the character, her Chloe is indefatigably positive and working overtime to be congenial under any circumstances, as her mother and society have trained her to be and expect her to be. But Sacco makes later revelation of Chloe’s deeper layers completely credible.
I Wanna Fucking Tear You Apart runs through April 2 at Island City Stage at Wilton Theatre Factory, 2304 N. Dixie Highway, Wilton Manors. The running time is 2 hours 15 minutes including one intermission. 7 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; 5 p.m. Sunday. Call (954) 928-9800 or visit islandcitystage.org.
Notes: For helpful tips about directions, parking, arrival time, etc., please visit the Contact Page at http://www.islandcitystage.org/contact/ . Do not park in the retail spaces directly across from the theater. They may tow your car