Saturday, July 23, 2011

“Poster Boys”: Painting a Clichéd Picture of Gay Life?

By Kristen Fogle

When one opens the front cover of Diversionary Theater’s “Poster Boys” program, a Wells Fargo ad proclaims that they are one of the BEST places to work for LGBT Equality and illustrate this by portraying two men that seem to be a little more than just friends. Both are walking down an upper class street adorned with lovely shops and flowers and are dressed well, but not too flamboyantly, are attractive, of equal height, and are postured to convey that they are both happy and also, yes, together.

This is an ad to emulate, I feel. And how (not so) ironic, because “Poster Boys,” the brainchild of Michele Riml, who wrote the popular “Sexy Laundry,” centers around how to create a very similarly themed advertisement. Caroline (Julie Anderson Sachs), a forty-something and poster girl for the domineering ad exec everywhere, is losing her footing. Much to her chagrin, her younger protégé and new fling Brad (Justin Lang) seems to be making waves as higher ups notice his pulse in the advertising world. Simultaneously, Caroline is hired to create a queer-positive ad campaign which happens to star her ex-fiancée Jack (John Anderson) and his boyfriend Carson (Charles Maze). Things get complicated when Caroline finds herself flailing (and failing) in her ad campaign when she is both forced to confront her anger with Jack and when her ideas about homosexual portrayals get challenged by the two men at the forefront of that life.

What this show has going for it is not necessarily its edgy topic: Diversionary Theatre and controversy essentially belong in the same lexicon. Nor is its power to step out of the box and display homosexuals as having other traits or interests we do not normally see. Case in point: Jack, bookshop employee, comes home to his architect boyfriend who is decked entirely in labels and immaculately dressing the table (which he does for every meal…did I also mention he’s wrestling with his Catholic beliefs??) On the same token, “Poster Boys” does not intend to re-brand the tired old staple of a business woman. (I got it, she’s Madison Avenue; constantly stressed, speaking loudly and with good diction, and also obsessed with labels.) In fact, I was confused: Wasn’t the message of “Poster Boys” all about declaring that there is more to these prototypes? Isn’t that what the couple at the forefront of the ad was trying to argue against even though their characters were written as the epitome of every gay stereotype out there? Even the music for the set changes was blatantly clichéd. We need Sonny and Cher, Sheryl Crow, and k.d. Lang to let the audience know this is a “gay show”?

Where I think this piece spoke volumes though was in its vignettes, when Caroline was breaking down and confronted by an omnipotent (and identically dressed) “Woman” (also Charles Maze). The banter between the two and the insight into one’s own psyche: how we deal with things, keep them, ditch them…these parts were both sad and beautiful because we all do them. (And though Charles is a very handsome man, you know when you are receiving meaningful gems from an unattractive tranny, it has got to be good writing.) Additionally, there were moments between Jack and Carson that were both picturesque and make us reflect on ourselves: when the pair is trying to film a commercial at the dinner table and keep pausing and starting the camera because they keep arguing about what and what not to express, we truly question which aspects of our relationships are unknowingly private moments and which we might wish to share given the opportunity. All in all, one of my favorite parts was the dynamic between the two men.

So, “Poster Boys”…a poster of success or of failure?

Well, like any struggling ad campaign, there are things that work and those that don’t. For me, the Wells Fargo ad painted a better picture in that it didn’t pigeon hole gay men as much as the play did. I credit the actors (and actress) for immersing themselves in a drama that contains so many moments of pure comedy and refreshingly shows love between two male characters. However, for me, “Poster Boys” did not completely sell as it sometimes painted the picture of a culture that is (still) just not quite ready to let go of the clichés that seem to unfortunately define contemporary gay life.

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