Thursday, September 28, 2017

74 (2017-2018): Review: BREEDERS (seen September 27, 2017)

“Not Habitat Forming”

In Dan Giles’s Breeders, an award-winning dark comedy seen earlier in San Francisco, Dean (Jacob Perkins) and Mikey (Alton Alburo) are gay partners in their late 30s who’ve been together since they were 19 and are adopting a baby as soon its mother, a friend named Zoë, gives birth. Mikey, the sole breadwinner, goes off to work while Dean (whose previous job is never mentioned) has agreed to be the stay-at-home partner, preparing for the new arrival.
Jacob Perkins, Alton Alburo. Photo: Hunter Canning.
Also occupying the apartment is a plastic habitat, home to Jason (Fernando Gonzales) and Tyson (Lea McKenna-Garcia), a pair of hamsters. Dean and Mikey, who thought they were both male, first realize they're male and female when Jason mounts Tyson. Watching them go at it soon stirs Dean’s insecurity about his own situation with Mikey.

Lea McKenna-Carcia, Fernando Gonzalez. Photo: Hunter Canning.
The scenes alternate between the humans and the animals, the former focusing on things like Dean’s fears about becoming a parent, of losing his freedom to become a boringly normalized gay dad like Neil Patrick Harris, or the need for affirmation he gets by hooking up with a guy (Gonzalez, in a nice shift from his hamster persona) he meets online to satisfy his urge to have his toes sucked. (If had a yucky scene score I’d give this one 100%.)

The rodent business looks at the very human hamsters and the changes in their affections—including the dominant Tyson’s poking the love-starved Jason’s eye out, among even more nasty things—after Tyson becomes pregnant and gives birth (as we watch) to a litter of nine pups.

As the couples bicker about their emotional and sexual needs, their thoughts on escape, and their feelings about the responsibilities of parenthood, we get to compare and contrast their relationships. The overriding subject is the permutations of love, even among inanimate objects.
Alton Alburo, Jacob Perkins, Lea McKenna-Garcia, Fernando Gonzalez. Photo: Hunter Canning.
Giles’s dialogue, deftly humorous on the page, too often fails to register on stage in Jaki Bradley’s languorously directed production, played for quiet naturalism at such low energy you want to offer even the human characters nutrient pellets. There are cute moments scattered through the generally static action but the actors, despite the apparent honesty of their work, need more comic charisma to satisfy the play’s demands. Garcia, as the moody Tyson, and Gonzalez as the love-addled Jason come closest to the play’s needs.
Alton Alburo, Jacob Perkins. Photo: Hunter Canning.
The 85-minute play takes place on Brian Dudkiewicz’s neutral set: a circular platform (with a matching disc overhead), backed by two semicircular upstage screens. The platform’s dominated by a sofa bed that the actors—in time to Ben Vigus’s playful sound design—revolve to move the action back and forth between the human and the animal domiciles.
Alton Alburo, Jacob Perkins. Photo: Hunter Canning.
Although Oona Curley’s lighting helps, a set that allowed the animal habitat and the apartment to blend better might have made a stronger metaphorical statement. Genevieve V. Beller’s passable costumes provide casual office wear (no tie) for Mikey and basic grunge for the bearded Dean, while the rodents are carefully nonliteral in what look like tan flight suits touched up here and there with white fleece.

Breeders—which concludes, nicely, with the surrogate mother (also played by Garcia) as a woman trying hard not to glance at the newborn cradled next to her in Dean’s arms—has potential but it’s only intermittently realized in this low-intensity New Light Theater Project production. Here’s hoping it’ll breed livelier versions elsewhere.


Access Theatre
380 Broadway, NYC
Through October 14