Queer folks and all their best friends will likely find themselves onstage in some form of fashion. Morgan Gould’s play I Wanna Fucking Tear You Apart is an ode to the gay man/straight woman relationship that has helped so many of us along in life. Part love letter, part Dear John letter, Gould’s sitcom-style play is poignant, hilarious and caustic all at once brought to fabulous life at Stage West by director Jenna Burnett.
Upon first impressions, Natalie Rose Mabry’s set feels massive and endless walking into the theater. She masterfully created a full-sized apartment without wasting any space. Don’t miss the use of iconic TV logos for the show’s title on the wall followed by the play’s credits posted like a sitcom opening as the cast dances and dresses onstage. A lot of work went into those, so definitely pay attention.
The two best friends, Leo and Sam, were played by Ryan Michael Friedman and Ellen Eberhardt, both who live together in their New York City apartment. Leo works for a Buzzfeed knockoff while writing short stories and poetry and Sam is completing her first novel. As writers, both encourage each other and as friends, they proudly deem themselves Team Fat/Gay for hers and his deep and long-standing friendship.
The two actors had the best friend groove down pat. Their conversations and banter was spot-on but Friedman and Eberhardt found those nuances that added an unspoken language between the two characters. Friedman’s Leo was aimless as a writer seeking support while working a job he wasn’t the most fond of. Leo wasn’t the most complex of characters, but Friedman gave him many layers of insecurity, promiscuity and insouciance which made Leo so magnetic. Or perhaps Friedman’s magnetism was what really did the trick. Leo could easily be that guy many of us know, but instead of relying on obvious gay guy tropes, he gave Leo a sympathetic depth that meshed well with his character’s quirks.
Eberhardt’s Sam (short for Samantha) had her own eclectic style that matched her roommates. They both had their rituals of Shania Twain songs, video games and Top Chef viewings. Eberhardt matched Friedman’s vibes and energy which made the pairing so idea. Perhaps the more driven and mature character of the two, Eberhardt straddled those lines of sense and silliness with a distinct ease. She embraced adulting, but Eberhardt also let Sam be a goof with Leo’s antics.
The wrinkle to their friendship is the entrance of Chloe (Olivia Cinquepalmi) Leo’s work wife who tries to join Team Fat/Gay, only she’s neither. Cinquepalmi does lots with little as the character appears minimally in the story but effectively. Cinquepalmi is one actor who’s mastered the art of physical subtleties that help audiences know her character. Initially buzzed, she nailed the “basic drunk girl” category, but she also pushed the right buttons that would put Eberhardt’s Sam at a distance. In the second act, Cinquepalmi drove home an emotional confrontation between Chloe and Sam. The tension the two actors created was a definite elephant in the room.
Gould’s story wonderfully portrayed that joyous connection between the two friends and the actors understood those textures that create something special. However, the arc sort of petered out with an outlandish reveal that was distracting fromthe otherwise natural flow. Not only did the actors inhabit these characters fully, but Burnett also had an understanding in her direction. The three cultivated characters that felt authentically bonded.
Queer folks – especially gay men – go see this show! Any play that can include Sniffies as a zinger is clearly a must. But mostly, it reminds of the value of those deep friendships that also serve as chosen family and allies in everyone’s queer journey.
I Wanna Fucking Tear You Apart runs through July 9.