Remy Germinario and Gabriel Neumann in “Rough Trade,” photo by Hunter Canning
by Billy McEntee
Bottomless brunch? More like bottomless barbs.
That’s both the quippy vibe of Rough Trade, in which lacerating gays throw insults like parties, and also the kind of punny word game they might play on an Instagrammable Saturday morning, avo toast freshly served. “Bottomless Barbs”: he who misses one buys the next round of mimosas. “Streisand,” “Walters,” “Bush,” “and Star…”
Cultural references are capital, after all, and they are the currency roommates/besties/exes Bunting (Remy Germinario) and Finch (Derek Christopher Murphy) exchange in Kev Berry’s booze-soaked, witty dramedy, now running at The Tank.
Bunting and Finch are millennial artists with careers as blank as Brendan Gonzalez Boston’s white canvas of a set. Cleo Perez’s projections blaze on that wall, articulating flirtatious texts, horny Grindr messages, and succinct scene settings, including Washington Heights, where Bunting and Finch live. The intellectual pals start dating economically contrasted but equally hunky guys, which exposes the friends’ conflicting values in relationships and leads to their own’s demise. Bunting meets a graphic novelist, Cock (Gabriel Neumann), who engages in sex work to make ends meet, and Finch falls for a pharma bro, Hawk (Max Kantor), who attends PGA events — earnestly.
The play aims for realism; the character names are avian. (Bunting paints color fields of azure skies; he’s concerned with the fleetingness of time — and friendship.) Fiction invites symbolism and heightened characteristics, and Berry elevates his gays’ vapidness to clever effect, as evidenced by many one-liners. (Of New York: “The City that Never Sleeps with Me.” Of the name Cock: “What is that, Dutch?”) However, Rough Trade sets up a peppy sitcom but tries to land a cutting drama. It is a hard shift to pull off, and while Berry’s play successfully highlights the flaws and unlikability of his characters, unlikability is not always complexity.
A late-in-the-play revelation about Hawk’s violent past feels shoehorned and yields a brief, unrigorous discussion about kink. Finch and Bunting’s coda, following their climactic breakup, feels unrealized. Berry’s play soars as a solid look at contemporary gay friendship; it falls short when it tries to chew on every facet of it. Too many ingredients (and Harmon-esque screeds) draw out the length, though director Alex Tobey keeps the nearly two-hour production zippy, taut, and focused. Plus, Berry gifts his actors bountiful humor to play with; Neumann lends Cock an easy charm, and Kantor is side-splitting as a himbo who attempts, and winsomely fails, to mimic foreign accents.
As the central character, Germinario makes Bunting’s alcoholism and stubbornness appropriately difficult to watch. Your ability to sympathize with him may depend on his familiarity; before the show starts, Jonathan Cottle’s colorful dance floor lights sweep across audiences members, inviting them in and also revealing them to one another. At yesterday’s performance, the audience looked a whole lot like the characters on stage: Berry’s play knows what it is and who it’s for.
Playing just on the outskirts of Hell’s Kitchen, Rough Trade is right at home; a tighter, punchier version could do well as pre-Tea Dance theater on Fire Island or in Ptown. Before rushing to pick up boys and vodka sodas, the gays may question the terms of their friendship when you strip away the booze, brunches, and barbs.
Written by Kev Berry
Directed by Alex Tobey
March 17–April 8, 2023
The Tank, 312 West 36th Street