Pride Arts Center takes audiences uncover in ‘Beds’
By PHILIP POTEMPA
The conversations that happen behind closed doors usually rank as some of the most vital and important exchanges.
Add to this scenario the fact that those closed doors lead to the bedroom, and it’s a couple engaged in the communication, and the result is something on an entirely different level and often hits some of the most intimate and sensitive topics.
Years ago, this dialogue behind bedroom doors was called “pillow talk.” Today, because of the anonymity available via online chats and the ease of reaching others through phone texting, discretion is much less of a consideration.
A double-bill stage event Zaks calls “Beds,” at Pride Arts Center, 4139 N. Broadway and directed by David Zak sizzles with the intimacies of couples, both together and apart.
Performances began June 4 and conclude June 16 for audiences invited to explore a two-hour, one intermission pairing of two stages stories.
The first play title is “Jerker,” by Robert Chesley.
But to be more specific, the official title is something much longer than what any marquee could accommodate: “The Helping Hand: A Pornographic Elegy with Redeeming Social Value and a Hymn to the Queer Men of San Francisco in Twenty Telephone Calls, Many of Them Dirty.”
The latter original title is certainly a mouthful.
Performed as a two-character play, it premiered in 1986 in Los Angeles and follows the relationship that develops between a veteran and a businessman in the beginning years of the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s. The two only know one another through a series of phone calls, which leads to sensual talks of fantasy and imagination to achieve their satisfaction. But what begins as something most would classify as disposable self-fulfillment, develops into invested emotions. While the original play describes the duo as a businessman and military veteran, for Zak’s interpretation, less of this is characterized. Zak’s cast is comprised of Trevor Bates as J.R. (who is on crutches for the military nod) and Cody Dericks as Bert.
Bates and Dericks are comfortable with the material and the phone conversation chemistry is believably real. Because they are disrobed for many of the various scenes during the story, both actors make the most of every movement and masterfully work with the lighting and timing to provide the necessary tease and intrigue leading to what will unfold next. Bates is especially strong in his character role, which includes showing growing emotional concern as the uncertain relationship builds to its finale.
The second half of this stage double feature is called “Two Boys in Bed on a Cold Winter’s Night” by James Edwin Parker and it premiered off-Broadway in New York in 1995. Also a two-character play, it explores the afterglow (or not) of two gay men who have just finished what was once termed as “a one-night stand” after meeting earlier that night in a Manhattan bar. The play is performed by Nick Bryant and Christopher Kauffman, pictured above with the headline photos. Bryant plays the more confidant of the couple, and Kauffman easily taps into the uneasiness which happens after an uninhibited sexual encounter.
Also framed by nudity and subtle nuances using expression and emotion to bring the script to life, both actors earn their applause for performances which make it east to invest in the story and the characters.
Using what is an intimate space and limited staging and carefully selected props, Zak has a keen eye for knowing how to program the perfect titles for Pride Arts Center with results worthy of ovations by audiences who are eager to see theater that mirrors life. Both selected titles also explore the changing sentiment to both AIDS and acceptance in the gay community.
Philip Potempa is a veteran journalist and published author. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.