Joel T. Bauer, Nic Cory, Kristen-Alexzander Griffith, David A. Rudd, Josh Segarra
As gay plays go, it doesn’t get much gayer than The Boys Upstairs, Jason Mitchell’s bitchy portrait of twenty-first century gay youth in Hells Kitchen, which is now playing as part of the New York International Fringe Festival.
Josh and Seth share an apartment and are throwing a coming-home party for queeny Ashley, who’s just returning to the city after helping with an Yves Saint Laurent fashion show in Paris as the play opens.
The new downstairs neighbor, Eric, comes up to borrow a tool (cue tacky penis jokes). And, as the play goes on, the boys’ boyfriends, dates, and tricks provide the fodder for all sorts of high jinks from our central trio of gay boys.
There really isn’t much substance to The Boys Upstairs. Concerning the characters within the play, it’s sometimes difficult to relate to a group of gay men who don’t seem representative of their community as a whole and are, on the whole, more outrageous than relatable. A good percentage of the jokes revolve around penises, anal sex, accidentally defecating in bed before gay sex, etc., etc. The list goes on. Once a character begins suggesting that another character’s anus could hold an air conditioner or an area rug, the joke seems to have gone too far and what is largely a brainless, frothy gay comedy veers into the realm of tackiness.
On the whole, the young, attractive male cast turn in winning comic performances. If Josh Segarra and David A. Rudd are somewhat less charismatic as the new neighbor and the various men in their lives respectively, the central trio are all brought to life with a certain measure of charm. Kristen-Alexzander Griffith, a queeny black stereotype with an accent almost exactly like Rue McClanahan’s on The Golden Girls, has excellent comic timing and a wonderful with with with facial expressions. And Joel T. Bauer provides Carrie Bradshaw-esque musings as the journalist of the bunch, posing relevant questions of the audience between scenes.
The play as a whole seemed to have won over the audience on the afternoon I saw it. Despite lacking wit or class, there’s a certain mass gay appeal to be found in a story about young gay men in New York City. It’s certainly refreshing to see a gay play that’s in no way bashful. The Boys Upstairs refrains from being apologetic in its full-on sexuality. Still, its characters end up seeming more like caricatures of people than real people an audience might know. There’s an element of camp involved that, in a play that attempts to tackle friendship and sexuality in an honest way, ends up overpowering the more earnest elements of what could have been a more compellingly-drawn story.