BWW Review: Site-Specific, Immersive Play BLEACH Explores Gay Sex Work

BWW Review: Site-Specific, Immersive Play BLEACH Explores Gay Sex WorkThis new play from the UK was billed as an "underground hit" and it was quite true to it's name: the get to the show you have to literally journey underground into a basement apartment in Bushwick, Brooklyn. This piece, written by Dan Ireland-Reeves and directed by Zach Carey, is a site-specific, immersive, intimate experience.

BLEACH is a one man show performed in a purposefully claustrophobic space for a nightly audience of only ten people. The play, which run a little over an hour, is a monologue delivered by Tyler, a confident 24-year-old who has turned to sex work in order to survive in the fatally expensive world of New York City. The role of Tyler is shared by Eamon Yates and Brendan George, who alternate performances. The play puts the audience inside of his apartment and we become part of his world as he interacts with audience members. Before the show, you are asked if you consent to be touched, and if you say yes you might just end up getting a strip tease or becoming a temporary (and silent) scene partner.

The night that I saw BLEACH, Brendan George was playing Tyler, and he portrayed him with a sneering cockiness, a sort of millennial Dorian Gray, completely void of morals and aware that he could use his body to get whatever he wanted. He was very playful and flamboyant, but it always felt like he was in control, or at least he tried to be.

The show shares the stereotypical problems all one-person dramas have: sometimes it can feel very one-note, the energy level can be an issue, and most critically, it takes both the performer and audience a while to warm up to each other--especially in such an intimate setting--and so the first section was a bit awkward.

BWW Review: Site-Specific, Immersive Play BLEACH Explores Gay Sex Work

Thankfully, the monologue is broken up into scenes with some small light cues (designed by Jake Lemmenes), which help keep things moving and distinguish where the scene is taking place, be it Tyler's apartment, a club, his mother's house, or a rich client's Yortktown penthouse. The lights, like the set and costumes, felt a bit thrown together. For costumes, designer Max Ruby attempted to cater to the mostly-gay audience by having Tyler in at little clothing as possible: a white robe, a white pair of briefs, or a white tank top at most.

The play would have been much more successful had it been staged in an actual studio apartment, not a basement, and was furnished and lit in a more fully realized way. The set (by Joyce Hahn) was an odd hodge-podge of furniture, a fish tank, books, a mannequin, and a weird painting, and felt mostly created from a trip to a thrift store.

The most tragically under-designed, however, was the sound (designed by Robert Kent): the poor actor was forced to make all his own sound effects, ranging from phone buzzes, computer notifications, and elevator dings-all of which could have easily been produced for him.

The play has a very interesting take on temporality, almost like an updated version of a Tennessee Williams memory play; it weaves in and out of recollections, and by the end you are not entirely sure what took place when. Dan Ireland-Reeves' script was inconsistent, jumping from funny jokes, to blandly written cliches, to surprisingly poetic lines. However, the few times the writing really shone were few and far between because the script was mostly overwrought.

Although it was not a overly well-written piece, was not well designed, and was not even very well acted, it did have an unexpected amount of nuance in regards to its subject matter. The play has some meaningful things to say about being young and poor in New York, about fleeing a small town, about struggling with intimacy, and most of all, about sex work, a subject rarely discussed on stage. Sadly, any attempt at relaying an important message or exploring a complicated topic is marred by the play's lackluster quality.

Producing a site-specific, immersive play about a young gay sex worker in New York was certainly an interesting idea, but there is something lacking in the execution that makes this experience a bit disappointing. BLEACH is, however, a daring and edgy play unlike anything else in New York.

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From This Author Christian Lewis

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