Back room at the Ninth Circle

Tricks of the Trade

Written and directed by John Capo
Duplex Cabaret Theater (212/255-5438;
Non-union production (Sat. at 9:30; closes on Feb. 12)
Review by John Chatterton

Tricks of the Trade takes place in a gay bar over one very long night. A few friends are having a night out, mostly looking for sex; but one, Joey (Benjamin Sands), is staying celibate, because he is in a committed relationship (all of five weeks long, to date). Tommy (Jeremy O'Keefe), the drunk of the group, bets Joey that he will have sex with some stranger tonight. Joey takes the bet. The stakes: if Joey loses, and tricks with someone, he must have sex with Tommy too.

The other friends get wind of this bet and despise Tommy for it, though it turns out that just about everyone has had sex with Tommy already -- indeed, they have just about all had sex with each other. Eventually it turns out that Joey's lover has been spotted in the back room having sex with a stranger, thereby pricking Joey's bubble of a monogamous fantasy, as well as his hope that they could all aspire to a higher realm of being than the empty life they seem to be making for themselves in the bar.

Capo alternates the struggle for Joey's soul with cruising vignettes, including soliloquies by Trick (Chris O'Neill), who appears variously as a serial killer, a priest, and someone who loves "eating ass," as he puts it. These monologs have an eerie effect and gave O'Neill more meat on his acting plate than the group of friends, who tend toward repetitions of their own petty points of view. Joey has some opportunities for character development as he talks to Zack (David Ellner), who works at the bar and with whom he starts sliding into what might eventually become something more. (Zack also offers some opportunity for subtlety, partly enhanced by having fewer lines and thus fewer opportunities to repeat himself.)

The costumes appeared to be from the actors' closets -- no pun intended. The lights at the Duplex were murky and pretty much what you'd expect in a bar, but that is no excuse for not illuminating the actors' faces. Six people sharing the tiny Duplex stage with a grand piano make for cramped quarters, and Capo's blocking didn't sort them out very effectively.

As a vision of hell, Tricks of the Trade is less like Dante and more like an especially overwritten episode of Queer As Folk. The play could lose 30 minutes and come out tighter and more effective. But there is much humor to the many one-liners, a ring of truth to Joey's angst, and a creepy undertone of recognition in the soliloquies of Trick, and these virtues are more important than the sins of inexperience. And the casting was spot on. (Also featuring Tyson Murphy and Jason Mitchell.)

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Set: N/A
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 0

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Copyright 2005 John Chatterton