Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Lovers Behaving Badly

Once upon a time (and not so very long ago), one's relationship status was simply described and easy to understand. The basic choices were:
  • Single
  • Married
  • Divorced
  • Widowed
However, with the rise of social media -- and the increasing recognition of cohabitation, open relationships, thruples, and other lifestyles by which people define their social and sexual couplings -- a new term has entered the vernacular: "It's complicated."

Deviations from previously-perceived norms can lead to increased passion, kinkiness, and excitement (as well as confusion about roles and responsibilities that were once strictly defined by gender). Such relationships also open up the door for writers to have a field day with mistaken identities and increased levels of dramatic tension.

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Wily West Productions recently presented the world premiere of Stuart Bousel's one-act romp entitled Everybody Here Says Hello! down at the EXIT Theatre. Bousel began working on the script nearly 15 years ago when he was living in Tucson, Arizona. Since then he's had a lot of time to mature, gain deeper insight into the randy behavior of his characters, and do a meticulous job of crafting layer upon layer of relationship madness into the script.

Dan Kurtz is Byron in Everybody Here Says Hello!
(Photo by: Jim Norrena)

His play starts off as several dudes are playing an informal game of baseball in a local park.
Bryon (Dan Kurtz) is in a relationship with Patrick (Nick Trengove)
in Everybody Here Says Hello! (Photo by: Jim Norrena)

And what about the women in Bousel's play?

Byron (Dan Kurtz) and his sister, Cara June (Kat Bushnell) in a
scene from Everybody Here Says Hello! (Photo by: Jim Norrena)

Cara June (Kat Bushnell) is Byron's under-achieving sister who has never really shown any ambition. Quick to note that she might just as well slaughter a goat on her front lawn, grill the meat, and feed it to some kids in day care, Cara June surmises that she might even be able to get some grant money which would allow her to call it performance art (if, as her brother notes, she could only be bothered to "fill out the fucking paperwork").

Patrick (Nick Trengove) and Rebecca (Mikka Bonel) become
attracted to one another in Everybody Here Says Hello!
(Photo by: Jim Norrena)
  • Rebecca (Mikka Bonel), a young woman who stops by the baseball game, takes a curious liking to Patrick but is crippled by some emotional baggage involving her older sister.
  • Esther (Kat Bushnell) is Rebecca's over-achieving sister who could have gone into medicine or law, but recently decided to pursue a career as a cabaret singer. Without any previous knowledge of Patrick's professional life as a drag queen, she asks him if he could help her with a problem she's having with her dress (of course, he could!) Not only is she taking Patrick's attention off Byron, she's also distracting him from Rebecca's amorous advances.
Patrick (Nick Trengrove) and Esther (Kat Bushnell) in a scene
from Everybody Here Says Hello! (Photo by: Jim Norrena)

Here's where casting actors in multiple roles makes things extremely complicated:
  • In addition to portraying Bryon's baseball friend Neil, Wesley Cayabyab supplies the telephone voice for Bryon's editor, Hammish.
  • In addition to portraying the super straight Toro, Tony Cirimele makes two appearances in drag: first, as a book agent named Sylvia (whom Neil's wife, Maria, has convinced to take a look at Bryon's manuscript) and second as Agnes (an older Jewish woman attending a wedding where Esther has been hired as a singer).
  • Sylvia Hathaway portrays Neil's wife (Maria) and another woman named Olivia.
  • And then there is Sam Tillis, who doubles as Bryon's former boyfriend, Luke (who would kind of like to get together again) and as Rebecca's ex, Doug (who would also like to get together again but has just gotten Esther pregnant -- which can only fan the flames of Rebecca's sibling resentment).  Like Shakespeare's Cassius, Mr. Tillis has "a lean and hungry look."
Dan Kurtz, Nick Trengove, and Mikka Bonel are featured
in Everybody Here Says Hello! (Photo by: Jim Norrena)

While Bousel's writing supplies plenty of petulant putdowns and snarky one-liners for his characters, Everybody Here Says Hello! benefits immensely from the rapid-fire direction of Rik Lopes, who manages to keep the cast moving at a furious pace that makes one wonder if they used a metronome during rehearsals.

Everybody Here Says Hello! is a delightful contemporary comedy which could have a long life in university drama departments as well as community theatres. It contains some of Bousel's smartest writing and is performed by a talented, finely-tuned ensemble. If you've ever wanted to see a furiously fast-paced, fierce Feydeau farce without any slamming doors, Bousel's play definitely hits the spot! Performances continue through August 15 at the EXIT Theatre (click here to order tickets).

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Clara Bow was famously known as "The It Girl." Believe it or not, there are many men who, despite living in an era of preening narcissism, are so uninterested in their looks that they can remain oblivious to the impact their presence has on the men and women in their daily lives. Such a man is 25-year-old Boaz (played by male model Yoav Reuveni), the protagonist of Yariv Mozer's new film, Snails in the Rain.

Poster art for Snails in the Rain

Boaz has a lot going for him. Having served his time in the Israeli army -- where he showed no interest in circle jerks or the sexual advances of his friend Nir (Yehuda Nahari) -- his lean, muscular physique and natural, unaffected masculinity leaves his admirers with weak knees. But as a linguistics student at Tel Aviv University in 1989 who is waiting to learn whether or not he will receive a scholarship from Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Boaz divides most of his energy between his linguistics class, his school's swimming pool, and making love to his girlfriend, Noa (Moran Rosenblatt).

Boaz (Yoav Reuveni) and Noa (Moran Rosenblatt)
in their apartment in Tel Aviv in Snails in the Rain

Sometimes Boaz and Noa will spend time with his friend Ori (Ori Yaniv) and Ori's girlfriend, Michal (Adi Douiev). But when Ori suddenly packs his bags and heads off to Thailand without any explanation, his departure becomes just one more mystery in Boaz's life.

Yoav Reuveni stars as Boaz in Snails in the Rain

That's because, while Boaz has been checking his mailbox, hoping for an acceptance letter from Hebrew University, he's started to receive a series of anonymous, typed letters from a closeted gay man who has a painful crush on him. The letters become more and more revealing, including intimate details about Boaz's day-to-day life.

Boaz (Yoav Reuveni) reads a letter from his secret admirer

The letters soon start to get on Boaz's nerves and he starts wondering who could be sending them to him. Although Boaz starts to question the looks he gets from men who cruise him at the gym and on the street, he remains relatively clueless.

Could it be the auto mechanic (Eyal Cohen) who is fixing Boaz's car? The overly solicitous library clerk (Ron Paran)? What about that hunk in the locker room (Eyal Kentov) who keeps trying to offer him a cigarette? Boaz can never really be sure whether someone is flirting with him or just trying to be nice.

Yoav Reuveni stars as Boaz in Snails in the Rain

When Noa finds the stash of letters written to Boaz by his secret admirer, it doesn't take much for her to guess that they've been sent by his linguistics professor (whom she noticed hungrily staring at Boaz one afternoon as they passed by him on a bus). After reading a letter which delivers an ultimatum to Boaz, Noa takes it upon herself to confront Professor Richlin in his office.

Writer/director Yariv Mozer portrays Boaz's
closeted linguistics professor in Snails in the Rain

In many ways, Snails in the Rain (which was screened at the 2014 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival) feels like an old-fashioned stalker film as the closeted letter writer starts to plant doubts in Boaz's mind about his sexuality. However, even when Boaz goes to a notorious cruising area and gets blown by a young man, he has an abrupt and negative reaction to the encounter.

With the exception of one scene in which a frustrated, edgy Boaz grabs Noa, pins her to the kitchen table and roughly fucks her from behind, Boaz seems to be a model of outward serenity.  Written and directed by Yariv Mozer (who also portrays the closeted Professor Richlin), Snails in the Rain does a superb job of capturing the frenetic lust of a closeted gay man with a crush on an unobtainable straight hunk. As Boaz's meddling mother, Hava Ortman lends a deadpan presence to the proceedings that would make Buster Keaton proud.

In addition to a tightly-plotted script, Snails in the Rain benefits immensely from Wouter van Bemmel's excellent musical score. Here's the trailer:

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