Inspired by the 1995 shooting of a gay man by his secret crush following their appearance on a US talk show, Ronnie Larsen’s play Sleeping with Straight Men, written shortly after, is a darkly comic look at how far we’ll go to find fame.
Stanley (Wesley Dow) is bored by small town life, and desperate to leave stifling Pontiac, Michigan. Despite the protestations of his mum (Julie Ross) and best friend, local drag queen Miss Sally (an impressively lunged Martin Milnes), Stanley sees a feature on Jill Jones’ hit talk show as his way out. Confessing he has a crush on straight local waiter Lee (Adam Isdale) Stanley sparks a predictable chain of events.
The big question about Larsen’s flimsy comedy is why he has stuck to the events of the real story so closely. I’d like to avoid spoilers, but nothing about this play surprises. The first half plays up the comedy of a gay man desperate to score with a straight; the second covers far too much emotional ground in not enough stage time. The characters are broadly drawn, which isn’t a crime, but the overblown ending requires more investment from the audience than the play has earned.
The confused sense of place doesn’t help matters. Lee is told it’s the ‘twenty-first century’ when espousing his homophobic views, but dated cultural references and the play’s sexual politics make it feel a world away from the contemporary relevance it is striving for.
Above the Stag's production of Sleeping with Straight Men is not, however, totally without merit. Paul Taylor-Mills directs a witty production with some individual knock-out performances. The glossy Amy Anzel is a riot as the manipulative host, while Andrew Beckett as a fast-talking make-up artist gets most of the evening’s laughs. Wesley Dow is blithely sweet as Stanley and Jill Regan brings a rare moment of emotional truth to the girl left behind.
You only have to switch on the TV to see real life on screen. But a play whose aim is a satire on instant fame needs more sophistication in its analysis if it wants the audience to leave with something. Drag queens, gay sex and death? We can get all that at home.