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Review: JERKER at The Provincetown Theater

Review: JERKER at The Provincetown Theater

Two Man Cast Captivates

What at first sounds like an evening of gratuitous nudity for the pleasure of gay men actually turns into quite the opposite. In one of it's final performances this summer, Robert Chesley's play JERKER proved to be a perfect fit for The Provincetown Theater's mission of presenting previously unseen works to it's audiences.

Artistic Director David Drake stages this 90 minute gem of a production. Firmly anchored in the 1980s at the height of the AIDS epidemic, JERKER's two man cast brings to life the stories of two gay men who engage with each other purely through phone sex. But the superficiality of the premise is merely a means to a much deeper end.

Chesley has created a world of isolation for each character, JR and Bert. The two have met in the bars before, but only JR recalls the encounter and somehow has snagged Bert's phone number. Their conversations are anchored in pure sexual fantasy and taboo sexual conversations that end abruptly after each achieves their desired orgasm. Names aren't exchanged at first and only Bert wants to know more about JR. But anonymity proves difficult once passion creeps in and the lines between sex, lust and love are blurred.

Review: JERKER at The Provincetown Theater
Joe MacDougall as JR

Joe MacDougall as JR is a perfect enigma as the protagonist who instigates each phone encounter. He has the upper hand and controls each call, but later becomes the submissive one. His deeply troubled past in the Vietnam war, merely less than 20 years prior, brings back flashbacks that need to be suppressed. MacDougall gives a powerful portrayal of the in command dominator who also is mostly bedridden and vulnerable

Review: JERKER at The Provincetown Theater
Stephen Walker as Bert

Stephen Walker brings an energetic vitality to Bert that is playful and sexy. He is game to humor JR whenever he needs a kinky story to get himself off. But Bert longs for a deeper connection, some serious non-sexual conversations, and most probably, a lover. It's 1987 and gay men everywhere are succumbing to the horrors of HIV and AIDS, and Bert's friends are not immune to the scourge. The two men find comfort in each other as they share their own personal horrors. Mr. Walker gives an emotionally charged embodiment of a man losing a dear friend to the ravages of AIDS. Later, his gentle recounting of a romantic brief sexual encounter with a stranger in San Francisco had the audience captivated, as Chesley's words find the perfect cadence in describing the beauty of a physical connection that while brief, is also an expression of intense love.

As the play progresses, Bert becomes ill. That first cough now will send shivers down the audience's spine, signally an inevitable end. Our hindsight felt in the year 2022 doesn't make the facts of the past any easier. MacDougall seeks to comfort his friend, rising from his bed and embodying youth and innocence as he tells a bed time fairy tale to the wary Bert. The two briefly touch and their relationship has transcended into something much greater than phone sex buddies. MacDougall is sublime and his rough edged character is now an ethereal healer of sorts.

While the graphic language of this play may make some uncomfortable, it was used in a truthful way to bring a gritty reality to the lives of two men. The complexities of a gay man's struggle to balance physical desires with a deadly virus, all the while wanting love, unfolds beautifully . The Provincetown Theater's fine cast under the guidance of Drake's subtle direction provided an enthralling evening of theatre.

Contact provincetowntheater.org for more information.

Regional Awards


From This Author - Michael Rabice

Michael Rabice has over  40 years of experience attending plays, musicals and opera all over the world. He is a frequent performer in opera and has appeared with the Glimmerglass Opera, A... (read more about this author)


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