If the title alone isn’t enough to intrigue you, Joe DiPietro’s F**king Men has plenty more going for it; this shocking, and often surprising, play is revived in an updated version at the Waterloo East Theatre, directed by Steven Kunis.
It’s a play that despite its unproduceable title, has been produced on multiple occasions; from The King’s Head to The Vaults and Edinburgh Fringe. Based on Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde, DiPietro cleverly transposes each of the original characters into the modern-day gay scene. The parlor maid becomes a teacher, the young gentleman his student, and while the Count becomes a TV personality, the Whore is still alas, a whore.
Each scene captures a couple either immediately before or after the act of sex, though in Kunis’s production there’s quite a bit of the sex too. One half of each pair appears in the next scene, taking on a new lover, and creating a circle of intimate encounters that eventually returns to where we started, with the escort looking to start a new and settled life.
This version introduces some new dialogue, including references to Only Fans and PrEP, neither of which appeared in the gay lexicon when the play was first written. It’s very subtly done, and anyone seeing the play for the first time would never notice as the old and new blend seamlessly.
Like its source material F**king Men examines sexual morality, “I’m only a hook-up” says more than one character, and the idea of monogamy, or perceived lack of it in the gay community, is explored in several of the scenes.
With a cast of only four, constantly rotating roles, it also highlights how sex cuts across class and age. Charlie Condou perfectly captures the older man seeking the company of a college student to keep pace with his bread-winning husband. Condou is also the TV personality, not short of cash, who is confronted by the plight of the young escort. Stanton Plummer-Cambridge is equally impressive in moving from soldier, to banker, to Hollywood actor.
Schnitzler’s Poet becomes a wonderfully eccentric playwright, and Derek Mitchell’s pitch perfect and highly comedic portrayal of the character is a real highlight of the production. Those brief moments of light relief are needed amongst the heavier themes that are always bubbling just beneath the surface, such as ‘The Husband’ lying about his HIV status.
The stage is split in two by panels that alternate between opaque and transparent as required. It’s clever staging as it allows the various locations to feel unique, and often allows a connection to the previous scene to linger just a little longer, reminding us that each of these lovers are connected.
Taking on the greatest number of characters is Alex Britt in a phenomenal performance that really gets to the heart of the vulnerabilities of each of the characters. As the Young Gentlemen, Britt brings out an assured arrogance before beautifully embodying the loneliness of an unloved porn star.
Joe DiPietro’s F**king Men is so much more than an unusually named one act play, it has real depth and pathos that very astutely opens up conversations about sex and love. There may have been many previous productions, but this F**king Men is amongst the best.