By Byrne Harrison
I'll admit that I wasn't exactly sure what to expect from David Parr's new play, Slap&Tickle, currently at The Provincetown Theater. It's set in a gay bathhouse, is sponsored by Manhunt, and has a funny sounding title. I guess I was expecting an updated version of Terrence McNally's The Ritz. While Parr's Slap&Tickle certainly has it's comic moments, this nuanced play about a group of men whose lives intersect at a bathhouse is certainly no broad farce. Well written and extremely well acted, Slap&Tickle is a surprise and not to be missed.
Parr's play is non-linear, allowing the stories of the various characters to be told in short pieces, each character's story revealing a little bit about themselves and often another character. The play continuously loops back upon itself to give a different point of view on a scene or to create connections between characters that are not readily apparent. It's an exciting and fascinating form of storytelling that hooks the audience and keeps them interested.
Director David Drake has assembled a terrific ensemble featuring J. Stephen Brantley, Todd Flaherty, Joe MacDougall, Christopher MacDow, Joseph Mahan, and Aaron Tone. These six actors play multiple characters (there are twenty or so characters presented during the play). While most of the characters can be distinguished by slight costume changes - one wears his towel like a sarong, another a baseball cap, one a string of pearls - even without these visual aids, the actors do such a remarkable job creating these characters that it would be easy to follow as they change from person to person. As an audience member, it's exciting to see an actor create a number of characters during one play and excel at making them unique and memorable. This cast does a terric job at that, with particular praise going to J. Stephen Brantley and Joe MacDougall, both of whom so thoroughly transformed from character to character that it was easy imagine that one was watching a much larger cast of actors.
Only two actors play sigle characters. Joseph Mahan as Billy, an older, flamboyant gay man whose story about stealing his mother's pearls and finding an "Uncle," an older gay man who taught him about life, were both funny and touching, and Aaron Tone as Frank, an employee at the bathhouse who had a childhood crush on Han Solo and was the victim of a vicious attack. They provide an anchor for the play, a couple of fixed presences at the bathhouse.
Drake once again excels as a director, creating a fast-paced, yet easy to follow production. His set design is simple but visually interesting, creating numerous levels in the playing area for the actors to use. Chris Page's lighting design is also effective, and Susan Morabito's music is a very nice addition to the show.
Quite easily the best performance I saw while in Provincetown, Slap&Tickle is eyeing a New York run. If you are visiting the Cape, I highly recommend
Written by David Parr
Directed by David Drake
Original Music: Susan Morabito
Set Design: David Drake
Lighting Design: Chris Page
Costume Design: Beto Guedes
Stage Manager: Charlie Owens
Technical Director: Dean Denmon
Marketing: Ron Johnson
Featuring: J. Stephen Brantley (Brett, Josh, David, Tim), Tod Flaherty (Sam, Jesse, Dale), Joe MacDougall (Ray, Danny, Marcus), Christopher MacDow (Mel, Vic, Aldo), Joseph Mahan (Billy Sunday), Aaron Tone (Frank Stark)
The Provincetown Theater
238 Bradford Street
Call 508-487-9793 for tickets.
July 6th - August 14th