FRIGID Festival 2019

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Photo credit: Logan Martin Arcand

It's time again for the annual FRIGID Festival, in its 13th year and the only theater festival in New York City in which all of the proceeds go to the artists themselves. The 2019 FRIGID Festival runs from February 20th to March 10th at the Kraine and IATI Theaters and, as always, has many more shows on offer than the small sampling that we will discuss here, so we encourage everyone to check out the full listing of productions on the FRIGID website, where you can also find the performance times and locations for all the shows. FRIGID faced the additional challenge this year of a last-minute relocation of a number of shows due to a burst pipe just before the festival opened, but, luckily for audiences, this formidable obstacle wasn't enough to stop these artists and the show will, in fact, go on.

The Gay Card

Written by Logan Martin-Arcand

Directed by Ed Mendez

Presented by SexualSpaceWalk Theatre at IATI Theater, NYC

February 20-March 5, 2019

The twentysomething whom we will know only by his screen name ColdPizzaSlice (Mitchell Kent Larsen) begins The Gay Card, written by Indigenous theater artist Logan Martin-Arcand, in a state of exposure, most of his clothing lying haphazardly on the stage. In a play that explores how its characters present themselves to others, especially online, why they put on particular personas, and how they more easily reveal flesh than feelings, his opening undress carries symbolic weight. ColdPizzaSlice, or CPS for short, as he himself suggests, describes himself as a longstanding hopeless romantic. CPS is finding it hard to date as a gay man and even harder to find love. Unexpected text messages from sometimes-date Fuck Boy (Torien Cafferata) after months of silence precipitate a "tipping point" for CPS, and he decides to download Grindr, which leads him to a date with Evan (Cafferata, doubling characters in another symbolically significant choice). Evan is younger and less experienced, and describes himself as "aggressively average"; he also explains that he is not on Grindr because he is a fan of the hook-up scene but because it is the only place that he feels he can be gay in his conservative small-town area, particularly since he doesn't enjoy bar culture. (Later, he and CPS discuss how many men only seem to be able to take pride in being gay in online contexts.) Unfortunately, while it seems like Evan and CPS should each be what the other is looking for, their date emphatically lacks a fairy-tale ending.

SexualSpaceWalk Theatre, a company based in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, was founded in 2016 with "an emphasis on sharing the stories of marginalized people," and with The Gay Card, it does so not only entertainingly but also empathetically. The play expertly conjures the repetitive wasteland of blind dates and familiar faces on dating apps, but it also wisely spends time with each character's perspective, and lending each one depth in this way simultaneously functions as a larger commentary on the dating and sexual culture with which they struggle. Fuck Boy possesses much more complexity than his moniker would suggest, and both he and CPS must deal with some honest self-realizations as the play unfolds. As a result of the shifts in perspective, we see an enlightening repeat of the same text conversation with a very different tone on both sides, and we can and should also re-interpret another earlier, in-person exchange. Throughout all of this, Larsen and Cafferata are charming and believable, equally at home with the light humor of text-speak or filling out a dating profile and the deeply-felt intensity of romantic frustrations and emotional pain. The play depicts cycles of narcissism and what boils down to abusive behavior, but it balances these with self-examination and the possibility of fresh starts. Funny, perceptive, sad, hopeful, and sweet, The Gay Card should be on any festival-goer's agenda.

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Sally, Hank, and Their Son Harry

Written by Manning Jordan

Directed by Daniella Caggiano

Presented at The Kraine Theater, NYC

February 20-March 10, 2019

During the first part of Manning Jordan's new play Sally, Hank, and Their Son Harry, the back wall of the stage is dominated by a poster for the 1968 comedy film Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows, the central conflict of which is between an older, more traditional Mother Superior and a young, modern nun during a cross-country road trip with a bus full of Catholic schoolgirls. Although the play divides itself between 1968 and 2017, its examination of love and sex primarily undercuts simple binaries in which more modern automatically means more permissive. Such complexity is suggested almost from the beginning, when the titular Hank (Sam Lanier) and Sally (Manning Jordan) talk with their married friends Gwen (Iliana Paris) and Jackson (Cesar Muñoz) about how involved they are in the church and how they have invited a priest to dinner in the lead-up to the two couples (ironically?) getting to know each other more Biblically. This encounter hits some snags, including Hank's focus on Jackson and the unexpected and unexplained disappearance of Harry's wet nurse Isadora (brought to memorably odd life by Simone Leitner); and the play jumps forward several decades to a "Sex Summit" at the 92nd Street Y on September 27, 2017 -- the day of Hugh Hefner's death, as stagehand for the event Grape (Jordan) helpfully notes. The adult Harry (Lanier), now a professor of human sexuality, married and with children, shares the panel with widely-published Francesca Sponamenti (Paris), who has a show on Netflix and is assertively, almost overbearingly open and frank about sexuality; similarly self-promoting podcaster Dr. Patricia Gorn (Leitner); and host Michael Tyler (Muñoz), whose skills as a moderator are certainly tested. (Pro tip: make sure to read the program inserts!)

The panel's Q&A allows it, and thus the play, to address infidelity, monogamy, what makes a good date or a good marriage or a good erotic movie, whether porn is a positive, and much more. Throughout the play, the action freezes periodically for extended asides that give the audience glimpses of the characters' backstories and inner monologues. Grape's story of meeting a romantic interest during her internship at the airport is particularly funny in both its writing and delivery, and Michael's creates a similarly funny contrast with his even-keeled demeanor as host. As the only cast member to play related characters, Lanier creates continuities between Hank, with his sometimes forced laughter and his orgy-specific NDAs, and the awkwardly earnest Harry, who comes at his human sexuality from an extremely academic angle, while keeping each a distinct character. The rest of the cast deliver strong performances as well, and while the play is foremost a fun, entertaining comedy with a light touch, Manning (both as a writer and performer) concludes on a very genuine note. Sally, Hank, and Their Son Harry posits that sexuaity is impacted by many factors, including but far from limited to history and family, to which end, perhaps, and to its credit, it doesn't spell out lines of cause and effect between its two segments. Of course, putting that trust in the audience would mean less if Sally, Hank, and Their Son Harry weren't also a swinging good time. - Leah Richards & John Ziegler

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