5 Guys Chillin' by DREW ROWSOME 18 November 2017
by Drew Rowsome
Wanna pair of shorts?
Shot of G?
Line of Meth?
We really should have a waitress...
To create 5 Guys Chillin', playwright Peter Darney sifted through 50 hours of interviews with gay men who indulge in group chem-sex. He then arranged the anecdotes, opinions and confessions into speeches for five actors forming a loose storyline. The result is half documentary, half The Boys in the Band in a PnP version of Reefer Madness, and in the hands of a talented, eye-candy cast and director Nick May (Sherlock and Watson: Behind Closed Doors), riveting.
How one reacts will be influenced by how one answers a question posited early on: what was your first sex party like? If one can answer that question, as I suspect most gay men can, then 5 Guys Chillin' will be evocative and squirm-inducing. More so if one has dabbled in chem-sex, has lost friends to chem-sex, or is a chem-sex enthusiast. 5 Guys Chillin' presents a slice of the scene without overt judgment or tabloid fervour, but can't help but be a firm warning about the dangers of using chemical and sexual stimulation as a replacement for connection.
It's a difficult balance to achieve. The preparation, the raw anticipation, as the men prepare for the sex party is contagious. When the drugs kick in and the men launch into various couplings, the lust and hunger is palpable if desperate. We understand the appeal. And as the layers slowly peel away and the more tragic motivations are revealed, we are suitably saddened, appalled and chastened. But whether it works as shock treatment, or a PSA, or a National Geographic special, or possibly even an advertisement, will depend on the audience member.
There is a list of trigger warnings in the front of the program and as the descriptions of sex acts participated in escalate from the porny to the questionable to the frightening, some of the audience gasped, but some of the audience laughed. The graphically simulated sex is depicted as violent and disconnected, but it is also hot. It's a difficult balance and when the final scene depicts the despair that usually results from dedicated chem-sex, the effect is devastating if a little pat.
Because of its creative genesis, the speeches, particularly in the opening scenes, are a bit disconnected but the actors quickly alchemize the fragments into five distinct and complete characters. Nate Callens plays the sexy host who is the bait to draw men to the party and to indulge in the drugs on offer. His transition from tasty to twitchy is a subtle progression and his stoic tall, dark, handsome and insatiable persona cracks into the most disturbing and sad confession of all the men. Before turning that on its head with the most disturbing, sad and hot sex scene.
Mark Keller's character is the first to arrive for the party and he is the most sympathetic. Looking for love - "I just wanted a boyfriend" - and only finding a good time mixed with rejection, Keller simmers with barely suppressed nervous lust and heartache. His counterpoint is Alan Shonfield's over-confident braggart who regales the quintet with his ever more outrageous sexual escapades and insistence that he has it all figured out when it comes to love and relationships. It is a very showy part that Shonfield plays to the hilt without overdoing. His partner, Alexander Plouffe (Circle Jerk, Lord of the Flies) is the most jaded, the least inhibited and, of course, has the most extreme story. Plouffe uses tiny physical details and piercing, roving eyes to build the character to a graphic physical climax that is moving and genuinely shocking.
Though focussed on chem-sex and group sex, 5 Guys Chillin' also explores, in somewhat schematic but also compelling sections, related and tangential subjects. STIs, HIV, body image, racism, relationships, and the benefits of fisting, all get a graphic, and frequently darkly comic, airing. The men are unabashedly, unapologetically gay except for Ahmed Muslimani's character who is a newcomer, shy and charmingly eager and insecure. He is refreshing in context, and Muslimani even manages to pull off the coming out/semi-closeted monologue that is the one portion of 5 Guys Chillin that isn't transgessive or unique.
The main problem with a play where the characters are high, is that those on drugs are prone to pronouncements, rambling and just generally being boring. After all, as they bemoan, they are horny but because of the drugs they "have no hard-ons and no cum" so they talk. Darney has done a good job on paring the excessive without losing the realism, and the cast finds many inventive ways, many of them casually sexually provocative, to keep the audience engaged when a character begins to babble. That is crucial as one of the major thrusts of 5 Guys Chillin' is that chem-sex is a symptom of the disconnection and the tragically unrealistic sense of invulnerability that gay men often exhibit. The instant a gay man insists that they aren't an addict or in control of their drug habit, are in a perfect relationship, gives a dissertation on the merits of various substances, or brags about their sexual behaviour and its results, it is a red flag. 5 Guys Chillin' hoists those flags before tearing them down in tatters and tears.
5 Guys Chillin' presents discussions we as gay men need to be having and is not for a moment anything but absorbing. It mostly manages to avoid being a moralistic travelogue, but then an audience that was straight or slumming would always have the out of being voyeurs instead of indicted. The close proximity of the action to the audience makes each member a participant, a guest at the chill, but also reveals, despite some clever sleight of hand, that the sex and drug use is simulated. Shonfield explains that group sex has no rules, only etiquette, and then launches into a long list of rules. The others are too busy on their phones, searching for the next instead of enjoying the present, and pushing their bodies and psyches to the next mechanical limit to pay attention. But the audience most certainly does.
5 Guys Chillin' continues until Sat, Nov 25 at Kensington Hall, 56 Kensington Ave. theatretopikos.com