The phrase “you’ll catch flies” begs for a few more words. One common saying is “Close your mouth, or you’ll catch flies.” Another one some of us may have also heard from the likes of a grandmother or an aunt, “You’ll catch flies more with honey than with vinegar.” In either case, there is a warning implied – the first to keep your mouth shut a bit more (or something bad may happen) and the second, a little kindness will go a lot farther than acidity to get what you want.
Either meaning works well for Ryan Fogarty’s You’ll Catch Flies, now in its world premiere at New Conservatory Theatre Center as the latest edition of the company’s multi-year “New Voices/New Work” program. Chattering mouths that become more and more toxic in their content/intent lead to results that could have been easily avoided through less unablated blabber and more thoughtful consideration or more deserved caring and less undeserved accusation.
A group of long-term gay friends decides to welcome back one of their pals who moved to Spain three years prior by having a “kiki,” a term that shows up in the Scissor Sisters’ song “Let’s Have a Kiki,” and in gay culture usually means a time for friends to get together for the purpose of chit-chat and gossip – all aided by plenty of drink and maybe some drugs, of course. Under the playwright’s design, this kiki’s chatter goes quickly from cute jabs and fairly innocuous scuttlebutt to more pointed stabs and gossip with hurtful barbs. But not stopping there, four so-called friends begin to plot a scheme to invade the privacy of a fifth in order to embarrass and/or righteously admonish him about something based on mere fabrication – the last increasingly made all the more real through their alcohol/pot-induced ‘group-think.’
To traverse this journey, the playwright resurrects portrayals of gays that dominated films and plays twenty-to-thirty-years ago and updates them now to include millennials, social media, and cell phone cameras. In the end, we seem to be watching a 2020 version of a vicious, malicious Boys in the Bandwhere the sniping, back-stabbing, and sleeping-around/cheating of various stock-types of stereotyped gays is more the norm than not and where the ending is inevitably bleak, destructive, and lonely for all involved.
And we in the audience are left to wonder, have we not left this type of treatment of gay relationships and gays themselves far behind us decades prior?
The evening’s party begins innocently enough as live-in partners Smitty (Sal Mattos) and Dev (Devon Marra) welcome J (Chris Steele) and Marcos (Vaho) to their apartment. They all gather around Smitty’s phone to relive the last time they were together through a myriad of pictures and videos taken three years ago at Marcos’ going-away party. Forays into penis sizes and poppers become the momentary topics for joking and speculation, leading to a few more drinks, some initial vapors of pot, and a fair amount of mostly friendly ribbing and teasing – all the while also catching up on changing careers, current relationships, and latest hook-ups via latest apps.
As they click their ice and take another puff, it becomes clear that the open relationship between Smitty and Dev may not be going near as well as they keep claiming it is – especially given all the arrows Dev keeps shooting Smitty’s way with poison clearly implanted. It also does not take long to see that J is still in love with Marcos, who now has a live-in boyfriend back in Spain – a love J has only one time professed and then blocked from memory (until a reminder video tonight) when totally drunk/stoned at Marcos’ going-away affair. When Marcos lures J out on the balcony for a smoke, the sparks return for both as Marcos shrugs off the fact that he is now cheating on someone thousands of miles away who will never know.
But it is when the fifth member of this group of friends is more and more late – Marty (Robert Kittler), admittedly by all the shyest, most reserved, and maybe nicest of the group – that speculation as to why he is late ups the ante of the evening’s gossip. The more private Marty, it comes out, was adopted and has discovered his birth brother through Facebook. Further, Marty has now welcomed Cory (Max Seijas) to come live with him and as a consequence, seems to be a totally changed person – being much more open, cheerful, and overall happy.
A couple of pictures that Smitty has taken of the two and a few more alcohol-enhanced anecdotes lead to giggle-squealed observations that Marty and his brother seem not to be able to keep their hands off each other, are always whispering things into each other’s ears, and have been seen having private moments of laughter off to themselves in the corner. It does not take long for the insinuation of possible ‘incest’ to be made by the clearly pumped-up, buzzed-out Dev and Smitty. They become intent on persuading the other two to join in a scheme to lure the brothers into a situation where maybe they can be videoed doing something that will prove their “inhuman, against mankind feelings,” as Dev so deliciously with lips almost smacking calls the accusation. While J and Marcos are initially put off by the accusations and even more by the plan secretly to video, they two eventually totally buy in – aided by more drinks, Dev and Smitty’s prompting, and their own mounting curiosity.
Watching this plan take shape during the first act’s forty minutes is frankly not very enjoyable, given how evident it is built on exaggerated suppositions and implications. More galling is that the four now fully energized perpetrators of the plan are people difficult to like or care that much about:
- A guy who is the ultimate and not-so-funny (anymore) stereotype of a ‘bitchy queen’ (Dev),
- A guy who boasts of a new photography career taking pictures of unsuspecting people in uncompromising/embarrassing situations (Smitty),
- One who seems never to get past first-dates that seemingly all involve hook-up sex (J), and
- One (Marcos) who is hot to cheat on his absent lover by having sex on the balcony with the guy who has never stopped secretly loving him (J).
The second act’s execution of the plan once the brothers arrive and the destructive effects on all is perhaps supposed to serve as the playwright’s warning against shallow communication relying too much on the virtual world and not enough on real-time, face-to-face sharing. Or, maybe it is just an admonition not to allow the lure of group persuasion to erase better judgment. However, whatever the intended ends, the means in this case in no way justify the effort, in my opinion.
Even with a cast that overall performs their scripted parts well and a director (Tom Bruett) who executes movement, flow, and pace skillfully, Ryan Fogarty’s You’ll Catch Flies is not particularly an enjoyable evening at the theatre. From my viewpoint, sitting through You’ll Catch Flies is experiencing an unneeded update of a gay genre that has thankfully largely long been put to rest on film and on stage when negative stereotypes reigned supreme and endings were most often to the detriment of the gay characters portrayed.
Rating: 2 E
You’ll Catch Flies continues through February 23, 2020 on the Walker Stage of the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness Avenue at Market Street, San Francisco. Tickets are available online at http://www.nctcsf.org or by calling the box office at 415-861-8972.
Photos by Lois Tema