Chicago Theater Review: THE BOYS UPSTAIRS (Pride Films and Plays at Mary’s Attic)

Post image for Chicago Theater Review: THE BOYS UPSTAIRS (Pride Films and Plays at Mary’s Attic)

by Lawrence Bommer on May 22, 2016

in Theater-Chicago


Familiar gay fare, The Boys Upstairs, a 2009 rouser by Jason Mitchell, revels in industrial-strength crowd-pleasing. Pride Films and Plays’ two-hour funfest is crammed with catty-more-than-witty banter, salacious-to-graphic sexual situations, bitchy byplay, lifestyle branding, eroticized objectification, italicized zingers, shameless doubles entendres, and a feel-good happy ending. Not that these are bad things, mind me–especially when perfectly pitched. Witness director David Zak’s soufflé of a staging: There’s whiplash hilarity galore in this Chicago premiere at Mary’s Attic. Their precious nonsense is happily contagious.


Familiarity can also breed content (not its opposite stuff). Given characters as generically predictable as these solid stereotypes, we needn’t waste a moment trying to feel at home. Whether in aspiration or actuality, the audience is “chez nous” from the start. Set in the now-trendy environs of Gotham’s Hell’s Kitchen, Mitchell’s laff-fest centers on three fractious friends (lavender “Musketeers”), two of them roommates, one a visitor who may stay.

Nelson Rodriguez is charmingly uptight as passive-aggressive, social-climbing Josh, an unpaid intern at the Huffington Post who lives to obsess. His current pipe dream is to invent a “Grinder”-style app(lication) called “City Boyz,” designed exclusively for caring gays. (You just know that’s it’s too specially targeted to make its mark or market.) Inhabiting their “eclectic” apartment, the steadier mate Seth (Gary Henderson, affably available) is a second-grade teacher with a third-rate boyfriend named Matt (Luke Meierdiercks, playing one of six tricks). This interloper proves to be a neat freak bordering on anal-retentive compulsion. A sort of sister act, Seth and Josh play off each other like professionals—or just old (as in intimate) friends.

But our vaudeville duo is really a trash-talking trio: Joining the horny, hard-drinking household is a proven pal, a cracked Southern belle named Ashley (Shaun Baer, flamboyant when he’s not festive) who’s a creator of runway shows. This wise-cracking, self-made center of attention has just spent soft time in Paris up to no good. The Id-iot (in the Freudian sense) is now ready to wreck the field in Manhattan, testing their designer couch with nightly friction.

20160406_0177 (3)So these are “the boys upstairs”. But there’s another downstairs, an unknown but lascivious quantity named Eric (Tristien Winfree), a built-in permanent temptation. The new neighbor’s orientation seems a mystery throughout most of this La Ronde-like romp. It also gives a déjà vu plot its one chance for suspense.

The rest of the action consists of funny, false or forced entanglements: Along with the cloying and phony Matt, Meierdiercks plays a lovable lunkhead from Hoboken, a leather lad named Bill, a blasé preppy, and a five-timing physician who should only heal himself. Most delightful (as in original) of the boys’ “strangers in the night” is Gabe, a Broadway-besotted, wanna-be Tony winner: The entire dialogue of this wide-eyed, painfully hopeful newbie consists of musical comedy song titles or lyrics. Gabe’s big monologue, a sex story stolen from a thousand sources, becomes a name-that-tune quiz show that the audience slurps like catnip.

To anchor Mitchell’s’ glib and slick frolic in plausibility, we’re never allowed to forget that these BFFs are always testing the last “F.” Mitchell’s princes of the city don’t always have each other’s backs (or other parts). Eric’s tectonic arrival and Ashley’s shenanigans constantly threaten to alter their Facebook statuses. It helps that, theatrically speaking, Zak’s quintet, as musically correct as politically incorrect, always hit the right dissonance or harmony as the swerving scenes require.

No question, The Boys Upstairs, appropriately performed in an “attic” venue, is as totally targeted as Josh’s doomed app. It’s often TMI as much as OMG and LOL. (Nothing is held back here, including the risk of shitting on sheets during anal sex.) Yes, it’s always arguable that a  gay play doesn’t have to prove it by fixating on sex, booze and lifestyle humor. But it doesn’t hurt either. Anyway, pathos, tragedy, politics, philosophy, and aesthetics aside, this play is very gay. (It’s also all about homosexuals.)

(L to R) Nelson Rodriguez and Luke Meierdiercks in TBU (2)

photos by Paul Goyette

The Boys Upstairs
Pride Films and Plays
Mary’s Attic, 5400 N Clark St.
Thurs-Sat at 7; Sun at 5
ends on July 2, 2016
for tickets, call 800.737.0984 visit Pride Films and Plays

Leave a Comment