Tricks of the Trade
nytheatre.com review by David Pumo
January 15, 2005
Tricks of the Trade, written and directed by John Capo, tells the story of four very young gay men who spend a night dancing at one of their usual haunts. One of the boys, Joey, tells the others that he is in love with a man he’s been seeing for five weeks now. After much banter—a lot of it quite witty—about love, the possibility thereof, and the likelihood that any gay man is capable of navigating it successfully, Tommy, the tough, jaded one, bets Joey that he can’t even make it through the night without being unfaithful to his new lover. What follows is a frequently funny evening of soul searching and revelation about the interconnectedness of sex and love, the unending battle between monogamy and infidelity, and the ability—or lack thereof—of gay men to rise above our animal nature and achieve something more significant in a relationship.
The problem with the play is that it takes itself way too seriously. What I kept thinking over and over as I was watching was "look, I've been around a long time, and I know what gay life is like, and I know what club life is like, and this isn't it." Like so many gay writers, Capo seems to want to throw a pall over the whole club experience to create drama. Too often, plays and movies that deal with gay night life focus on things like overdosing, or superficial pretty boys committing suicide because they're turning thirty, or relationships being destroyed because someone flirts on the dance floor. The alleged tragedy in this play is that no gay man is capable of getting through even one night without multiple sexual partners.
It's silly, preachy, and not real. People go to clubs because it's fun and, yes, sexually liberating, which is a good thing in these reactionary times when everything sexual has become so demonized. And as anyone who reads the paper should know by now, there are plenty of gay people who have wonderful, long-term relationships.
Tricks of the Trade is at its best when it’s funny. The members of the ensemble cast all have great comic timing, and Capo has written many cutting one-liners and topical jokes that kept the audience laughing throughout. He is not afraid to push the envelope, either, and the humor is often quite graphic, with the characters talking about topics that had the audience—largely straight on the night I was there—squirming in a good way.
Chris O’Neill is the only actor who plays more than one role, reappearing over and over again as various “tricks,” usually trying to hit on the vulnerable Joey. The characters represent types of men, using actual pickup lines that have been used on the writer and his friends. Often these characters and lines are predictable, which is part of what makes them funny. We’ve all been there. Sometimes these moments are a little richer, like the short monologue one trick tells about eating…well…it’s a gay thing. In one of these moments, though, O’Neill appears in a dress and wig. Joey reacts to this with disgust, and the club bouncer hustles the trick out of the club. I was confused by this, and a bit offended. Of all the seedy characters coming on to young Joey, only the transgender character prompted such a visceral reaction.
The small space is nicely used, and the characters make many entrances and exits through the audience to create a “you’re in the club with them” atmosphere. The lighting by Thomas Honeck works well to create atmosphere and move us from moment to moment. As usual at the Duplex, the tech is far better than you’d expect from a venue that has to accommodate two different shows each night.