In Tom Donaghy’s Boys and Girls, Reed and Jason, former lovers, meet again. Jason now has a new lover, William (unseen throughout), but is still drawn to Reed, as Reed is to him. They part, and Reed visits his friends Bev and Shelly. He and Bev made love (twice) before Bev turned lesbian and started living with Shelly. The women are bringing up Georgie (unseen), Bev’s 4-year-old (not by Reed), and feel the boy needs a father figure; therefore Reed should move in with them.
During the rest of the play, Reed will fluctuate between Jason and “the girls.” Jason will fluctuate between Reed and William, Bev will fluctuate between Shelly and Reed, and Shelly will fluctuate between loving Bev and hating her. This wouldn’t be much of a play, so Donaghy tells it in stammers and dithers, fragmented verbiage and non sequiturs, inchoate bits and overlapping dialogue, aposiopesis and time lags (a question is answered three or four lines later). All this, including conversations à trois at cross-purposes, with three-way splutters, is supposed to make the play more interesting but merely makes it all the more annoying. People behave irrationally, we know, but this must not infect the playwright writing about them, and, toward play’s end, Donaghy deviates into sense, but it’s too late. There are evictions from various abodes, a threatened lawsuit, two permanent separations, a good deal of hysteria, and, finally and unbelievably, a sexual rapprochement between Reed and Bev, probably intended as a way to placate heterosexual theatergoers (if the play can attract any). This ending, however, is unlikely to please gay audiences, and none of it should please audiences of either sexuality with any taste and discrimination.
Even so, compared with This Thing of Darkness by Craig Lucas and David Schulner, Boys and Girls is as simple and classical as a comedy by Molière. Of course, Thing had the advantage of two pretentious jokers pouring their darkness into it to make it twice as absurd. Lucas, now 51, is a gay playwright of sporadic talent; Schulner, now 28, is an apparently straight neophyte playwright, whom Lucas met in 1996 when lecturing at Southern Methodist University.
Thing is the story of two 22-year-old friends, Abbey and Donald, attracted to each other to the point of examining each other’s penises and regretting that they are not actually lovers, though their behavior rather belies that. Their birthdays are on this very post-graduation day, and Abbey’s ineffectual father, Frank, and ditsily adoring mother, Molly, are giving them a joint 44-candle cake. Molly calls Frank a pussy; he retorts, “Mr. Pussy to you.” Abbey hates them both. Donald fantasizes about his and Abbey’s meeting at least every fifth birthday in this very house. An atom bomb hits, and all is plunged in darkness.
Without intermission, it is now 25 years hence. Abbey and Donald are 47, portrayed, respectively, by the former Molly (in drag) and Frank; Frank and Molly are 72, portrayed by two old actors. The two young actors now play Abbey’s twin sons, Reef and Skim, who are screwing each other in the basement, being members of a simian cult in which all must copulate “morning, noon, and night.”
The next scene (no intermission) takes place “50 years hence and now,” with bits of the first scene incrementally overlapping. Reef and Skim died in a revolution; the old actors are now Abbey and Donald, and the four others are as they were in Scene One. To complicate matters, some speeches partially overlap and many others are entirely simultaneous, thus adding bewildering incomprehensibility to arrogant vacuity. Thing is, in its way, unique: Two sets of simultaneous twaddle yield not so much double- as quadruple-talk.
Boys and Girls
By Tom Donaghy, directed by Gerald Gutierrez.
This Thing of Darkness
By Craig Lucas and David Schulner, staged by Lucas.