Review by Byrne Harrison
Playwright J. Julian Christopher doesn't pull any punches when it comes to the issue of body image in his play Man Boobs, currently being produced as part of the 8th Annual Fresh Fruit Festival. Spence (Jeffrey Marx) has a lot going for him. He's a curator at a library, well-read and well-spoken. He has a handsome man, Marty (Robert Valin), actively pursuing him, not just for sex, but possibly for something a little deeper. But no matter what he has or is being offered, he can't see himself in a positive light. Spence is very overweight and is suffering from crippling self-esteem issues.
Where Marty sees a handsome and sensitive man, Spence sees only man boobs. He views himself as a punchline in some sort of cosmic joke and sabotages his relationships by waiting for the other shoe (imaginary though it may be) to drop.
Thrown by Marty's request that they spend the night at Spence's apartment (they've mostly had a series of semi-public trysts to this point), Spence's unease about getting physical with Marty seems to be based more on this invasion of his space, but as Marty cajoles and Spence demurs, the real issue comes to light. Spence's refusal to take off his shirt, and what happens when he finally does, brings everything to light - his self-loathing, inherent suspicion of anyone who finds him attractive, and various humiliations from his childhood.
Can he overcome this for a truly open and non-judgmental man? Well, let's not give away too much.
Christopher's play is mostly well written, though I don't think there is enough of an attempt to give each character his own voice. Considering the differences in their backgrounds, truck driving, working class Marty often sounds quite a bit like white-collar bibliophile Spence. More distinctive voices would highlight those times when their roles reverse, Marty showing his surprising depth and empathy while Spence becomes almost monosyllabic in his shame and self-hatred.
Robert Valin is terrific as the horny and jovial Marty. He is especially effective during his heartbreaking attempts to break through Spence's reserve and suspicion, and during a great scene where he catches a glimpse of himself through Spence's eyes. As Spence, Jeffrey Marx is good, though he seems to have issues with his timing, often pausing before speaking in a way that slows down the scenes (and undercuts the emotion of the particularly fraught moments) and seeming at times to bobble his lines. In fairness, this is not uncommon in festivals due to the short rehearsal times involved. All this said, Marx does an amazing job during Spence's breakdown after removing his shirt. His performance at that moment is raw and moving.
Though this production is in need of a stronger touch by director Web Bogole, there is a lot to recommend it and Christopher's script.
Written by J. Julian Christopher
Directed by Web Begole
Producer: Kristen Luciani
Lighting Design: Sheila Donovan
Set Design: Web Begole, J. Julian Christopher
Sound Design: J. Julian Christopher
Stage/Light Crew: J. Julian Christopher, Sheila Donovan, Richard Ponce
Postcard Design: J. Julian Christopher
Featuring: Jeffrey Marx (Spence) and Robert Valin (Marty)
Cherry Lane Studio Theater
38 Commerce Street
Closed July 24th