THE MEN'S ROOM
Foxworx Theatre Company
Well, it can only happen once. I've seen the world's worst play and lived to tell the tale. Called The Men's Room, it's perpetrated by Craig Nevius, a 22-year-old playwright who can only improve. Nevius has concocted a play so painfully naive, so clumsily written, that Amnesty International should declare it a torture; if The Men's Room fell into the hands of terrorists, whole cities could be talked to death. Those audience members too paralyzed or too polite to flee Foxworx Theatre Company's production were only minutes away from a hideous boredom coma. Four more lines, and we might have had a new Jonestown.
Nevius sets a supposedly realistic play in the men's room of a bus station where, except for one token real patron, no one enters but the six characters--five men and a woman. This crummy john has become the haven for a "congregation" led by "Father" Dominic, a 26-yearold ex-seminarian who wears a dippy hat and offers his young disciples absolution from inside his favorite stall (his "magical place"). There his acolytes confess to a stupefying litany of flaky adolescent hang-ups--mainly parent, school, and relationship problems, all of which sound like The Breakfast Club dumbed down to zero. And Dominic says mass, feeding the congregation white bread and reading from the sports pages. He boasts that his john provides two kinds of relief. (Really, though, it's three; later he barfs--that's character development.)
The denizens of his lavatory/ church are--stop me if you've heard this before--an insecure graffiti artist who gets no encouragement from his cold father, a rich Pollyanna airhead who's afraid to commit to a relationship (she's Dominic's ex-girlfriend but yes, secretly she still loves him), a janitor working to earn enough money for a sex change (he's also, for good measure, a failed abortion who never knew his parents), and a high school kid running away both from the algebra class where he's regularly humiliated and from an uncaring, materialistic father who puts him under too much pressure. (What--no computer nerd with cancer?)
The odd man out (and the congregation's resident Judas) is Kegritch, a power-hungry political-science student. A cynical pragmatist, he attacks Dominic for trying to protect his flock from the real world. Which is just what Dominic confesses to before his thuddingly predictable reconciliation with his girl. (She returns right after Dominic prays for her to give him another chance.) It's frightening, the hours of watching television that went into this play.
Nevius treats these characters' problems as if he had a paint-by-number set in hand: you get only one color at a time, and no blending allowed. He builds emotion with lines like "I would have settled for her hate rather than her indifference." His idea of character development is to have the characters label themselves as if with vaudeville placards. Or suddenly, without a shred of motivation, a character begins to describe his or her problem to death in line-by-line cliches--after which the high school kid offers his awesomely stupid pop psychology. Insight into character means to Nevius that if a man kisses another man, he must want to be a woman. And Nevius is either very stupid or very irresponsible: to symbolize the group's solidarity, he has the cretinous crew prick their fingers and share their blood. Can anyone here say "AIDS"? Youth and inexperience are no excuse: writing this dumb, so phony it's scary, deserves a special place in theater hell.
Nary a fresh moment brightens the 150 endless minutes of this play, though one line "Can't you come up with something better than a cliche?"--fairly howls with irony. Though The Men's Room seems better suited to a sludge treatment plant than to a serious staging, director Danette Hopper's approach is all too appropriate: acting that is this slow, stiff, and awkward sinks like dioxin into an aquifer. It's positively sadistic for each actor to pause portentously before each cliche as if about to announce a cure for cancer.
If Hopper had only directed her six abused actors to play inmates in an institution instead of John Hughes rejects, some of The Men's Room might have made some crude sense . . .