Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by Robi Polgar, Fri., June 27, 2003
Tricks: Games People Play
Arts on Real, through July 19
Running Time: 2 hrs, 15 min
Major kudos and good wishes to Naughty Austin, and Blake Yelavich in particular, for turning another Eastside warehouse into what promises to be a gem of a small theatre for years to come: Arts on Real. Yelavich and his troupe of Naughties have carved a niche for themselves, producing plays that don't shy away from sex and sexuality -- straight, gay, and anything beyond and between -- while finding plenty of room for searing comedy, riotous camp, and the occasional dramatic ping. Now, the Naughty Austinites are free to continue their theatrical journey in a room of their own. The venue is inviting, the auditorium spacious, and 60 to 70 patrons enjoy great sightlines of the deep playing area. Be warned, though, the building is still under construction, and the air-conditioner has yet to be introduced to what quickly becomes a stuffy, warm space. Once that is taken care of, Arts on Real will be popular for patrons and producers.
To open the venue, Yelavich has penned and directs Tricks, dubbed a "sexual thriller," but not a thriller in the traditional sense of that generic term. Well, yes, someone dies, but the thrill in this play is in the chase, or rather in the bet waged between sex hounds Cort and Aaron, two men who use their lovers like an assortment of accouterments in an ongoing game of one-upmanship: Who can bed that man first, last, or longest. The story takes a twist when Aaron's current fling, a wealthy old queen named Bertrand, opts to take under his wing minor-league ballplayer Fabian, who is married and very religious. Aaron and Cort think it's fair ball to see if Fabian is, indeed, all man, at the expense of Bertrand (and Danielle, Fabian's zealous wife). The plot thickens with the addition of hunky virgin Enrique, vapid and eager, another conquest in the raw for the two cynical manipulators. What starts out as another rather devious game of sexual thrills, however, takes an unexpected turn, which leads to the bloodshed and some broody self-analysis at play's end.
Yelavich's script, much like the as-yet-unfinished theatre, feels incomplete. Twists and turns at the end seem forced, and too much exposition at the front-end of both acts reveals the offstage world but in a passive way. During the intermission, time has passed, and major changes have taken place in the characters' lives, but we don't see this; we are told it, which is simultaneously disappointing and disorienting. (Haven't the characters already met? Why the unfamiliarity?) More important, are we to believe the change in Cort? Actor Jude Hickey works all facets of his character with commitment and courage, but we don't get to see how he got from devious, vain poof to man honestly in love. Which is too bad, as here is an actor that could take us on that complicated journey. There are other rough patches in the text -- shortcuts, if you like -- that, one imagines, were left untended while the building was made ready to open. It's an unfortunate but ultimately unavoidable trade-off: To open a space, you want to do it with a bang (no pun intended), and that means staging a play; but, inevitably, the production finds itself competing for attention as the venue is made ready for patrons. Yelavich and Naughty Austin have a long, successful history, and even if Tricks winds up more of a stopgap effort, you know that as the dust settles on Arts on Real, things will take off for this generous and hard-working troupe.