As a queer person fairly connected with the community, I have, like many of us, some understanding when it comes to men seeking men online, with hookup apps. I may even have some experience! Throughout lemonTree creations' MSM [men seeking men], I kept wondering, “How are straight people interpreting this?” I mean, I realize straight people have hookups, but I have the feeling gay online hookups are a completely different monster!
Which is the magic of the show. Imagine standing in line and glancing up and down, seeing a bunch of gay men, checking out a couple of cuties (come on, you know you would). You’re ushered into the cathedral-esque space of the Randolph Theatre and onstage are seven different gay male bodies (and one hot, half-naked, masked DJ Scooter). MSM is Craigslist personals in the abstract; it’s dirty chat rooms discussed philosophically, artfully. It’s what it would look like if Klimt did a painting of Grindr. The shapes and bodies meld together and you have a vague sense of what’s going on, and that sense is dark, dirty, violent and sexy.
This is truly a collective effort; the seven company members (plus DJ) are onstage throughout, present, performing. The tough part is deciding where to look, because there’s always so much going on, which enhances the frenetic, explosive feel of the concept. The men of MSM, each and every one of them, work the space with intensity and total commitment. The marvellously attractive cast is an added bonus. They’re sexy, they get sweaty, clothes slowly (and tantalizingly) come off. They tell stories with their bodies. Serious commendations to Joe Pagnan, whose exquisite production design really creates the world, especially the lighting, which made the scenes at times frightening and at times simply divine.
The show is mostly non-narrative; there are words, but like the scenes, they’re exploded and rearranged, with only a bit of straight-up back-and-forth dialogue. This can be a challenge to absorb; it’s best to think of the piece as a performance experience, almost performance art, more than a linear theatre show. Likewise, the dance work is very abstract and sometimes difficult to follow, but it is also symbolic and effective. Sometimes the scenes go on a little long and could easily be tightened.
A small quibble, which has nothing to do with the production itself, but I found myself wishing for a black-box theatre-in-the-round instead of the raised proscenium stage. Maybe a remount is called for?
I am not sure what MSM’s conclusion is regarding online interactions between men. It is neither damning, nor particularly flattering; at times it's frightening, portraying desperation. It is also very sexy and sensuous. Straight people aside, I found myself wishing I could gaze into the minds of the whole audience, wondering if they were turned on, who they were eye-fucking up on stage.