Lisa Thatcher

Fucking Men – The complications of sexual repression. (Theatre Review)

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Fucking Men

New Theatre for Mardi Gras

6 February to 10 March 2018

You can grab your tickets here.

Images: Bob Seary

A popular notion stands that monogamists are repressed and those who refuse monogamy are somehow free. This idea is underpinned by the mythology that desire is free and natural and not the result of say, boredom, a rallying against some other problem in life, or control by ideology. It is this idea that Joe Dipietro takes up in his modern day La Ronde, Fucking Men. Desire is seen to be pure, driven only by a clean response to another individual, or as is repeated inside the play, a ‘connection with someone.’ All the problems with sex happen when we impose ‘rules upon it (with the exception of course, the rule that all attraction is good and pure and not to be interfered with.) One character lays the groundwork for multiple partners with the line “Imagine sleeping with only one person for the rest of your life?” revealing his basic problem to be a lack of fertile imagination rather than a genuine problem with monogamy. Monogamy is always framed as an imposition against the purity of desire rather than a choice progressing toward self-interest. Indeed, what seems to be the most offensive crime of monogamy is its open refusal toward the other in preference of choice. To choose someone means someone else was not chosen. This deeply offends those off the sexual menu.

It was Foucault who suggested centralizing sexuality in procreation and the family home made all other sex prohibitive. We won’t be entirely free of repression without a whole view of economy and revolution and new mechanisms of power. Sexual repression and the need for production coincide when repression is placed alongside the beginning of capitalism; it was at this time repression became easy to analyse and the positivity of sex more difficult to defend therefore the demand for sexual liberation becomes valorized politically. Speaking becomes an act of revolution. Alongside this, speaking about ‘abnormal’ sex is equalized with inciting rebellion. In this way pleasure, revolution and enlightenment (knowledge) are linked. Any form of sexuality that is outside the condoned ‘norm’ becomes equated with a superior knowing. The value of speaking out about sexuality is extended beyond the importance of receiving a listening ear. What becomes essential is not the market, but the discourse linking sex, revelation of truth, revolt against laws, proclamation of a new day and pleasure – a new theology in sex. A theology that, at its core, replaces the old set of laws with a new set equally politically expedient and related to an unquestioned morality.

Joe Dipietro approaches this subject through the world of contemporary gay males focusing on the complex relationship between the sexual encounter itself and what sex is supposed to ‘mean’ to the individual. To speak is never neutral, and so it seems, to have sex is equally never neutral. No character is able to connect with a sexual freedom in the play, although all claim this in some way for themselves. In choosing La Ronde as his basis, Joe Dipietro calls into question the idea at the base of La Ronde, which is sexuality links those society attempts to divide. In Fucking Men the whirligig of La Ronde is a transformed political statement about degrees of separation and the similarities between disparate ideological position. Rather than sex being a political act (as it is in La Ronde) Joe Dipietro depicts sex as a victim of the political, presenting it as never free despite each character’s attempt to use it to step out of their ‘moment’ and connect with the other. Connection happens, but it occurs as a refutation of not having sex. The argument is presented, ‘Why do men have sex with strangers? Because it feels fucking awesome,’ without any conversation about the awesome power one gains from refusing someone who wants to have sex with you. Instant gratification is compliance and domination. Men have sex with strangers because they are weak, easily dominated and not busy enough with a project that moves them. None of these statements are true, but neither is the inverse. It is taken as self-evident that sex should happen and desire is always pure. It is by indulging in our modern prohibitive morality – that of gaining knowledge through indulging in ‘not normal’ sex – that Joe Dipietro is able to present these arguments as such without considering the counter position as having any value. It seems we are up to our necks in a new version of puritanical, moralistic sexual laws.

Director Mark Nagle and his cast generously work toward rectifying this problem. Setting the action on a large disc allows the circle to occur as a strange form of actioned gossip, edging the play away from the distractions of the political. This goes a long way toward making the production a joyful, light celebration, rather than trapped in its unformed political narrative. Mark Nagle includes the insights (and it can’t be denied that Fucking Men is a marvelous insight into the world of gay men for those of us who aren’t part of that community) of Joe Dipietro’s point, but he balances the play toward its comic aspects to its benefit. It’s funny, and provides a great deal of entertainment. Tragic characters like Pete Walters Donald and Stanley Browning’s John (each reveal the deeply sad potential of the gay lifestyle encumbered by historical prohibitions) are well balanced against the comedy of Michael Brindley’s Kyle and the casual elegance of John Michael Burdon’s Jack.

Fucking Men is a warm, respectful examination of the white gay urban lifestyle, that lovers of Mardi Gras theatre will devour with gusto. It’s a funny, poignant night at theatre that I suspect with give those inside this intriguing community a great deal to chat about late into the night after. Include the soulful, beautiful performance of Matthew Raven for the crowning glory of a gorgeous night out.

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