First the explicit: Yes there is a lot of (simulated) sex happening in this play. In fact the five characters interact sexually throughout much of the show. The program warns “you may be uncomfortable’. I wasn’t. Some will be.
Secondly; the close-up. This is a small, intimate theatre and you are sitting VERY close to the action
It’s hard to know what to make of Five Guys Chillin’ as a conventional theatrical piece, because it isn’t. There is precious little narrative thread in the conventional sense and not a lot of character development, so those in search of a plot may feel short-changed.
Here’s the premise, the attractive host (Nate Callens), even before the play proper starts, is sitting on a couch, dressed in shorts and a harness. He’s watching porn. He is joined, eventually, by four other men – a couple experienced in sex parties, an affable friend of the host, also experienced, and finally a married man who experiments on the side. They talk, they take drugs (a lot), they have sex (a lot). Throughout all this they tell their stories, their thoughts about sex parties. The program tells us the dialogue is verbatim, taken from real interviews of guys on Grindr about their experiences with the PnP chill-out scene.
Two, maybe three of the men are HIV-positive. And yes, viral undetectability is discussed. I think one uses the term “virtually impossible” to transmit while talking about their behaviour, which is close but no cigar. HIV men seem well assimilated. Having said that, and my knowledge of the PnP scene is not first-hand, the dialogue suggests authenticity. At times it is funny, at times it’s sexy, but not for long. The scene is not glorified, but rather made ugly. Is that fair? I don’t know. But the one narrative arc we can hold onto throughout is that the party starts off well, but by its end, with one man comatose while others tell a succession of grim stories, it does not end well. That it’s not preachy is an achievement worth noting.
Is all this entertaining? Sort of, in a voyeuristic kind of way. But the party is ultimately a downer and so might your experience of it be. True, the energetic coupling of a succession of naked men has definite appeal for those seeking eye candy. And those with an interest in how the PnP scene intersects with HIV prevention work will almost certainly leave with greater knowledge on the sexual mores, the highs and lows, the etiquette even, of the PnP scene. (In fact ACT staffer Adam Busch was there on opening night to provide some after-show context.) But the play is not for everyone; some might be triggered, for example. Some might find all this too painful.
The cast is excellent, by the way. They are extremely convincing. Production values are simple; the action takes place in a living room with a bedroom nearby that conveys just the right, slightly seedy, slightly erotic tone. The direction is bravely and nimbly handled by Nick May.
My recommendation is go. This is a unique experience. The show runs until November 25th at Kensington Hall, 56 Kensington Avenue in downtown Toronto.
Tickets are available at theatretopikos.com